The women’s lacrosse team held the nation’s most potent offense to just five goals Saturday — and still lost.

In what turned out to be a defensive showdown, the No. 7 Elis (9-2, 4-1 Ivy), plagued by missed passes and an inability to clear the ball, lost 5-2 to No. 4 Duke (11-2) at Johnson Field.

“We didn’t execute the basics,” head coach Amanda O’Leary said. “If you can’t throw and catch, you’ll end up with a game like this: 5-2, and you’ll have the ball for maybe 10 minutes.”

The Bulldogs’ usually dependable transition offense was nowhere to be seen, and despite Yale’s best defensive showing this season, there was just no offensive support to pull ahead.

“With us not being able to get our transition game going we had no choice but to go on defense,” O’Leary said.

Duke controlled the tempo and the ball — for nearly 50 minutes of the game — and the Blue Devils’ pressing attack wore the Bulldogs down. With the play in the Eli zone for so long, it was only a matter of time before Duke found the back of the net, and three unanswered goals in the last 15 minutes of the game was the result.

Initially, the Elis looked like they would be the team to beat, attacker Clarissa Clarke ’03 quickly put her team ahead, sending a bullet past Duke netminder Kristen Foster only six minutes into the game.

The Bulldogs effectively ran their collapse defense, quickly double-teaming the oncoming attacker and forcing a bad pass or high angle shot.

But the Elis could not break the ball out of their zone.

“I don’t think the defense could have played any better, but just had a lot of trouble in transition,” goalie Amanda Sisley ’03 said. “We just couldn’t get the ball over the 50.”

It didn’t take long for Yale’s mistakes to become Duke’s scoring opportunities. But the capacity crowd cheered time after time as the brick wall Sisley — who had a spectacular 14-save performance — and her stellar back line thwarted the Blue Devils again and again.

“I knew Yale’s defense was going to be very good and that Yale’s goalie would be very good, but I thought we could overcome that,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “I didn’t expect this defensive battle at all.”

But a miscued pass or a Duke steal ended every forward push by the Daughters of Eli — and Duke was not going to miss the net the entire game.

“You just can’t play the amount of time we did in our defensive zone and win lacrosse games,” O’Leary said.

Duke capitalized twice before the half’s end, pulling ahead 2-1.

But midfielder Kate Flatley ’01 evened the score at 4:47 in the second half, bringing the crowd to its feet.

But Yale could not clean up its midfield problems and things just went downhill from there.

Duke maintained its aggressive, physical play and brought the Eli defense to its knees with its pounding attack, allowing the Blue Devils to outshoot the Bulldogs 29-17.

Duke scored again at 15:15 and took the lead for good as the Blue Devil’s leading scorer, Lauren Gallagher, scored her second goal of the afternoon.

“Possession [was the difference in the game],” Kimel said. “Eventually I knew we going to be able to keep working and get the ball past the goalie.”

In the closing minutes of the half, the Elis started to take chances in a last effort to get the ball back. And despite some great scoring chances on Yale’s part, Duke’s lineup held off the attack and even added two insurance goals.

“We had to go after them,” O’Leary said. “Duke isn’t just going to drop the ball.”

But coach O’Leary was pleased with her defense’s play, especially Sisley’s performance and defender Jenn Kessel’s ’04 phenomenal play. Kessel marked Duke’s most threatening goal scorer, Kate Kaiser, and held her scoreless nearly the entire game — a tall order for a freshman, O’Leary said.

The Elis hope to bounce back today against Notre Dame at 3 p.m. on Johnson Field. Duke defeated the Fighting Irish Friday, as the Blue Devils scraped to a 5-4 halftime lead, only to blank Notre Dame in the second half to pull away 16-4. This in mind, the Bulldogs are optimistic.

“We know we’re better than what we played [Saturday], so we’ll be able to come out and stick it to Notre Dame,” Sisley said.

But the Bulldogs will need to bring their top-notch defense tonight, and more importantly, Yale must eliminate its mistakes in transition and establish an offensive presence early.

“If there’s one thing I’m concerned about for [tonight], it is getting the ball out of our defensive end, because Notre Dame does a great job of defending that,” O’Leary said.

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