Durham native Mollie Pathman scored two second-half goals as the Blue Devils exploited woeful goalmouth defending to thrash the Demon Deacons 4-1 and move to Sunday's College Cup final.
The score was a little misleading—not because Duke didn't throughly deserve the win, but because only one goal was from open play. Two were from corners, and one was a penalty kick.
Playing in the lovely new soccer stadium—built for women, in fact—on the campus of Kennesaw State University, Wake Forest's defense stifled the Blue Devils attack for the better part of the first half, as playmaker Kaitlyn Kerr had difficulty finding the ball and her teammates repeatedly lost possession under Deacon pressure. Wake Forest, meanwhile, earned multiple corner kicks down the left but were unable to threaten Duke keeper Tara Campbell.
The breakthrough was somewhat against the run of play, then, as Duke coach Robbie Church pulled several attacking players near the end of the half. In the 43rd minute, an uncleared corner kick from Duke's Nicole Lipp fell to substitute Kim DeCesare, who poked the ball through some Wake Forest legs and arms to send the Blue Devils to the locker room with a 1-0 halftime lead.
The second half was mostly Duke most of the time. Kerr found more time on the ball, and freshman Kelly Cobb displayed an indefatigable work rate (see Thursday's New York Times profile on the Alaskan). Crucially, Duke's sophomore bruiser Natasha Anasi covered Wake's star forward Katie Stengel like a blanket (albeit a blanket that comes with lunging legs and expert shoulder checks).
Pathman scored her first goal from a Duke counter in the 51st minute, rewarded for her run into the box when Laura Weinberg knocked a cross from Cobb into Pathman's path as she flew in legs-first past her defender. 2-0.
Wake Forest threatened to make it interesting, though. In the 57th minute, Stengel was hacked to the ground by Duke's Maddy Haller at the top of the box. While Stengel waited to re-enter the game, Rachel Nuzzolese scored her 12th goal of the season on a 20-yard free kick, exploiting Duke's poorly set wall that left a clear channel to the far post.
But minutes later, a Wake defender knocked Kerr down in the box. Pathman coolly sent first-team All-ACC keeper Aubrey Bledsoe the wrong way, sidefooting the ball for a 3-1 cushion.
Kerr scored off another Lipp corner in the 75th minute to finish off Wake. It was Kerr's 11th goal of the season.
Duke (24-2-1) moves on to play West Coast powerhouse Stanford (24-0-1) in a battle of prestigious non-Ivy private schools. The undefeated Cardinals are the nation's top-ranked team (however, according to the RPI metric, Duke is ranked No. 1, Stanford No. 2 and Wake Forest No. 3). The match will take kick off at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN3.com.
Meanwhile, the UNC Tar Heels men's team are also in the hunt for a cup. They're playing this afternoon at 5, hosting unheralded St. Mary's (10-6-5) in the round of eight. Should the third-ranked (but top-seeded) Tar Heels prevail as expected, they'll move to the College Cup next weekend in Hoover, Ala. This game's not on television, so you'll need to get on down to Fetzer Field.
By the way: Area soccer fans should note that this may well be the last live opportunity to see UNC stars Billy Schuler and Enzo Martinez. Both players are juniors, but are projected as top-five picks in next month's MLS SuperDraft.