With the win, also came first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) women’s lacrosse standings and the regular season title.
Following a 15-8 win over Syracuse last Saturday, North Carolina head coach Jenny Levy provided a glimpse of what to expect as both teams faced off for the 30th time in their series against one another.
“The Duke matchup, regardless of where everybody’s ranked, it doesn’t matter,” she said.
“Every year, someone can be having a great season, someone can maybe be in a different part, and it’s still gonna’ be a war.”
With the previous two games having gone to overtime and with both sitting in the top-five, it would have been a safe assumption that another one-goal finish was highly likely.
However, that is not how it ended up with 1,433 on hand to witness it.
Instead, the Tar Heels (13-2, 6-1) grabbed the lead after falling behind 1-0 early on, and never let go of it for the rest of the game, no matter how hard the Blue Devils (13-2, 5-2) worked to pull back even.
Hat tricks from Sammy Jo Tracy and Aly Messinger along with pair of goals from Kelly Devlin and Maggie Bill did the job for the Tar Heels offense.
Marie McCool and Sydney Holman added singles while the goalkeeping tandem of Caylee Waters and Megan Ward each made three stops in their 30 minutes of play apiece.
Kerrin Maurer scored two for Duke which spread its offense amongst five scorers, including Maddy Acton, Katie Trees, Kyra Harney, and Taylor Trimble.
Duke goalkeeper Kelsey Duryea went the distance and made seven saves in the loss.
“It was a huge win for us,” Messinger said.
“We wanted it. It’s a rivalry, ACC, regular-season win. They’re a really competitive team doing really well this year, and it meant a lot to us to win the game.”
The Battle of the Blues matchup between the Tobacco Road rival schools had each team sitting with identical 5-1 records in league play.
With Duke off to its best start since 2006, the Tar Heels looked to carry the momentum forward from a recent four-game win streak, all against ACC opponents.
It was a tall order as the Blue Devils hadn’t lost on their home field since Apr. 5, 2014, winning seven straight this season.
After Maurer opened he game’s scoring at 24:43, costly fouls allowed the Tar Heels ample opportunities to put together a 5-0 run over the next 10 minutes of play.
Bill and Devlin led the charge for the Tar Heels, catching Duke defenders in draw-and-double set- ups that left Duryea vulnerable to shots high and low.
“Our inside game has been really, really strong all season and tonight we were just hesitating and second-guessing ourselves,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said.
“That’s something we tried to adjust and did a better job with, and I think we did in the second half. The stuff we gave up in the first half were really easy looks.”
When the Blue Devils finally gained possession, they reciprocated at the other end.
Acton, Trees and Harney beat Waters and Duke pulled to within one, trailing 5-4, with 6:23 to play.
Tracy and Messinger answered back to put North Carolina ahead by three, a 7-4 lead which they carried into the halftime break.
Both teams traded goals to start the second half as Holman scored 35 seconds in before Trimble scored on a pass from Trees following a loose ball pick up just outside the eight-yard area.
Trailing 8-5 with 24 minutes to play, the Blue Devils maintained a lengthy possession, looking to cut the deficit further, but Ward came up with a chest-high save that stopped that drive.
As play continued at both ends of the field, it was North Carolina that capitalized on its chances over the next 10 minutes.
Tracy scored her third while Messinger’s second put the Tar Heels ahead 10-5 with 15:52 to play.
As Maurer scored her second of the game with 10 minutes remaining following Bill’s second of the game, there was ample time for a Duke comeback.
However, trailing 11-6 and with more fouls and turnovers, Duke continued to chase rather than assume control of the game.
According to Maurer, it was reminiscent of the Blue Devils’ other loss on the season to Virginia.
“UNC is a very fast and athletic team – it’s one of their best strengths,” Maurer said.
“A lot of the time, especially in Virginia too, we didn’t have the composure that we needed to have, especially in the offensive transition and in the offensive end. I think in the Virginia game we had a lot of turnovers and unforced errors and I think that also showed tonight. It was the reason why we weren’t able to put up as many goals as we have.”
Messinger completed her hat trick and the game’s scoring with 1:07 to go.
The Tar Heels now sit atop the ACC with Duke in second heading into the conference championship that will take place Apr. 23-26 in Charlottesville, Va.
“We welcome the opportunity to play the next opponent and not to get too ahead of ourselves, regardless of who it is,” Levy concluded.
“We respect all of our opponents.”