May 21, 2011

Duke Ends Florida's Historic Run in Quarterfinals

by Rachel George | | Live Blog/Chat Center

Sarah Bullard and Duke will get another shot at Maryland, thanks to their 13-9 win over Florida in the NCAA quarterfinals Saturday.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Sarah Bullard and her classmates remembered what it was like to make it to the final four.

After Saturday's NCAA Division I women's lacrosse quarterfinal win over Florida, the Duke seniors aren't the only ones who know the feeling.

The fifth-seeded Blue Devils (15-4) handed fourth-seeded Florida its first home loss of the season, advancing to next week's semifinals on Long Island thanks to a 13-9 win at Dizney Stadium.

A more experienced Duke team was patient on offense in 94-degree Florida heat, withstood Florida's second-half surge and ended a historic season for the Gators, a second-year program.

"We've had games before and important playoff games where we haven't necessarily stepped on the pedal and finished out the games and we've ended up losing," Bullard said. "So I think we have those experiences in the back of our minds, and all of us knew that wasn't going to happen again this year."

Bullard and Kat Thomas scored three goals apiece to lead Duke, including three of the final five goals as Duke pulled away.

Florida coach Amanda O'Leary said the Gators played tentative and scared in the first half as Duke took a 6-3 halftime lead. After Florida tied the game at 2-2, Duke took its time on offense as it pulled away.

"I think we were just trying to be really mindful and deliberate about how we managed our possessions," said Duke coach Kerstin Kimel. "I think that our offense did a really great job of pushing tempo at times and then pulling back and being very deliberate about what we were running."

Florida came back in the second half, taking its first lead since Kitty Cullen scored the first goal of the game. Janine Hillier scored back-to-back goals for Florida to make it 9-8, but the Blue Devils went on to score five unanswered.

As time wound down, Duke stalled in the final 10 minutes and forced Florida to challenge for possession. Two of the Blue Devils' goals came with Florida goalie Mikey Meagher out of the net.

"We came out and had to pressure them," O'Leary said. "They're a great ball-handling team. I think they scored a lot of goals as we were trying to get the ball back."

After losses in the quarterfinals in the past two years, Duke returned to the final four, where a familiar foe awaits. Defending NCAA champion Maryland beat Princeton on Saturday, giving the Blue Devils a matchup with an ACC opponent that beat them 18-11 earlier this season.

Florida, meanwhile, ends a historic run in its second year. The Gators went 12-1 at home and won their first American Lacrosse Conference title.

"What we've done this year is amazing," Cullen said. "We're a bunch of sophomores and we just made it to the elite eight. All the starters are 19 and 20 years old. We really made a mark this year, and teams next year are really going to need to watch out for us."

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