Redshirt sophomore Cassie Pecht is back on the pitch this season after two years of being sidelined by knee injuries. All the tears, frustration and pain of those two seasons are now just a memory as the 2012 National Freshman of the Year turned in her best performance since her return.
Behind two goals from Pecht and four scores from other four Blue Devils, No. 22 Duke routed Appalachian State 6-0 at Koskinen Stadium Thursday evening in its last test before the start of ACC play. The Blue Devils had only scored four goals in their last four games but now have plenty of momentum as they head into Sunday’s conference opener against No. 2 Florida State.
“We were struggling in the past couple of games, so our main focus was getting the ball in the back of the net,” Pecht said. “We have been practicing shooting in practice and I think it really showed off. We played together as a team better and did what we needed to do.”
Pecht notched her two goals of the evening in a three-minute span early in the second half to give Duke (6-2-1) a decisive 4-0 lead. Juniors Rebecca Quinn and Christina Gibbons registered their first goals of the season in the first half to give the Blue Devils an early 2-0 advantage, and freshman Kayla McCoy and sophomore Ashton Miller added the last two strikes of the contest.
The Blue Devils had the ball control from the opening whistle and tried to manufacture their best looks by opening the field, especially on the right flank.
Duke broke the deadlock thanks to a strategy play in the 21st minute when he referee awarded the Blue Devils a free kick. The Mountaineers (4-3-1)—who entered the game with only five goals allowed in seven contests—expected a cross toward the box from Miller, but the midfielder from Okemos, Mich., assisted Quinn instead. The Canadian center-back fired from 30 yards and beat goalkeeper Megan Roberson.
After several more scoring chances did not produce another goal, head coach Robbie Church decided to shuffle some pieces in his formation and introduced four changes in his squad. Freshman Chelsea Burns came in Pecht and played as right defender, moving Gibbons to the attacking front.
After a couple of chances from Casey Martinez and Burns, the Blue Devils extended their advantage with two minutes left in the opening half. Sophomore Imani Dorsey controlled a cross and fed Gibbons inside the box. The junior captain powered a low right-footed shot from the penalty stop that Roberson couldn’t turn away.
Duke headed to the locker room outshooting Appalachian State 12-2 and holding a 2-0 lead.
“I thought we played really well,” Church said. “[Appalachian State] got some really good wins, they are very organized and they work had. It was not their best performance but we played at a high-level for most of the night and we finished some really nice goals. I’m really happy with our performance.”
Just 200 seconds into the second period, Church’s squad found itself with a decisive four-goal lead. Freshman Kat McDonald registered her first assist of the night—and her careeer—finding Pecht inside the box 33 seconds into the second half. The redshirt sophomore controlled the ball and made it 3-0 on the board with a slight touch to the far post. Three minutes later, Pecht tapped the ball into an open net after a combo play from McDonald and Dorsey.
“I’ve [been] struggling with my confidence recently, so today it was a great day to get two goals in the back of the net,” Pecht said. “I was really focusing on that because I knew that would boost my confidence.”
The four-goal advantage didn’t satisfy the Blue Devils and they were hungry for more.
In the 57th minute, McCoy—who led Duke’s offense Thursday with five shot attempts—notched her fifth goal this fall, connecting from 14 yards out. The shot from inside the box was blocked by a Mountaineer defender, which changed its trajectory.
“Our coaches really emphasized that we just need to start finishing our chances,” McCoy said. “The forwards especially haven’t been scoring much in the last couple of games, so it was a great confidence-booster for us to be able to put the ball in the back of the net.”
With the 5-0 on the board, Church gave a few of his starters some rest, as he will need them fresh for the team’s ACC debut against Florida State Sunday.
Miller delivered the final blow with eight minutes left. The sophomore midfielder took a free kick from 25 yards and the Mountaineer goalkeeper couldn’t snuff out the low long-range shot.
On the defensive side of the field, Duke registered its sixth shutout this season. The Blue Devils defenders kept Mountaineer Merlin Beckwith—who entered the game with two goals and three assists—under control as the Appalachian State striker did not have any chances to score in the 90 minutes.
“Our defensive mentality is going to be tested very soon,” Church said. “We start [the ACC] with the defending national champions, which is great. It will tell us where we are at this point, where we are halfway through the year, where we stand at the national scale. It’s only one game but it give us a little measuring stick. We have to be at our best absolutely for the full 90 minutes on Sunday.”
Published on Duke’s The Chronicle