by Mike Potter
KOSKINEN STADIUM/DURHAM Duke opens ACC women's soccer action tonight needing to start the conference season on the right foot.
The opponent for the No. 12 Blue Devils (3-2-1) is Miami (5-0), which has beaten five unranked opponents.
Robbie Church's Blue Devils dropped a 2-1 decision to visiting No. 2 UCLA on Sunday, and are hoping to improve on their goal-a-game pace against a tough early schedule.
Duke, which played for the NCAA title two seasons ago, is looking for its 11th straight NCAA Tournament bid.
The Blue Devils have a couple of local players of note. Senior left-footer Mollie Pathman, who has been a member of Team USA at the U-23 level, is a graduate of Durham Academy. She'll play defense tonight as will Christina Gibbons, a freshman out of Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons who has started the first six games of her career.
Miami hangs tough for a half, but the Blue Devils rally for a 3-0 decision that is really their first comfortable result of the season.
Duke, which has just one first-half goal this season, is in a goalless draw at the break.
Although the Blue Devils outshoot the Hurricanes 12-4 over the period, Miami gets the best chance to score. That comes when Tara Schwitter is awarded a penalty kick in the 40th minute, but Ali Kershner makes a convincing save going high and to her left.
Toni Payne gives the Blue Devils the lead in the 48th minute, bending a blaster past Emily Lillard into the right upper corner. Kim DeCesare and Laura Weinberg pick up the assists.
Kaitlyn Kerr doubles the lead 10 minutes later on a header in the box, with the primary assist to Weinberg following Pathman's rocket of a free kick from 40 yards out on the left sideline.
And Kelly Cobb puts it away in the 77th minute, scoring from just outside the box on assists from Kerr and Pathman.
Kerschner improves to 3-1-1 with five saves. Lillard (2-1-0) finishes with seven.
They said it …
Church: "It was nice to see the first goal go in. We came out with a sense of urgency but their keeper made some good saves. At halftime we talked about being decisive. We were picking our heads up to watch the ball go into the goal. But we had plenty of time for that. ...
Kerr: "My goal was a team effort. If it weren't for a couple of my teammates trying to deflect the ball or get into the goalie's way I wouldn't have been there. Mollie's leg is awesome. I told her before the game the way she crosses and passes the ball is unlike anybody else. And she defended hard out there."
Pathman: "We played the same as we've been playing, but we pressured and played a more complete game than we've been playing I think. ... We have great headers up there and I knew we could win the ball. We've been talking about putting the ball in there and letting them go find it, and that's exactly what they did."
Kerschner: "I was just trying to keep my team in the game. If I could make the save it was a huge momentum shift. It's my job. I decided on a side, she went that way and it worked out."
What does it all mean?
That Duke may well have got its scoring mojo back.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Kershner's save of the penalty kick.
Duke: Won 1.
Miami: Lost 1.
Duke leads 9-1-1.
Duke vs. Florida State, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Miami at Wake Forest, Sunday, 1 p.m.