Colorado College went toe to toe with one of the nation's elite teams on Saturday and came within a post-overtime penalty kick of advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In what officially goes down as a 1-1 tie against Duke University, the gritty Tigers saw their season come to an end when the Blue Devils prevailed 4-3 in a shootout and escaped jam-packed Stewart Field with a date against the University of Florida next week.
An appreciative crowd of 1,739 watched the teams stage a classic battle in which both launched 23 shots and finished with nine on target.
It came down to the fifth and final PK after 110 minutes of even play, and Kelly Cobb, who had opened the scoring in the 28th minute, ended the match with her point-blank blast past sophomore keeper Kate Scheele.
"As you can see, we compete," said Scheele. "In the end, we all feel a little robbed – like we really should have won that game. But we're just as elite as they are. Hopefully, next year, we'll be able to bring it to them."
Duke led 1-0, thanks to Cobb's header at 27:11, until junior midfielder Kaeli Vandersluis tied the contest with 2:25 left in the opening half. Vandersluis notched her ninth tally of the season, and sixth in the last seven outings, after getting open on the right side and volleying a crossing pass from sophomore Sarah Schweiss.
"It was a great ball by Schweiss," Vandersluis said. "It was an early service and my mark just lost me, so I was wide open. I'm glad that I could finish it."
From that point on, it was a battle of keepers.
Scheele made two giant saves late in regulation, deflecting a close-in shot by Duke's Danielle Duhl over the net with 14:37 remaining then making a diving stop to push a labeled attempt by Cobb past the left post with six minutes showing on the second-half clock.
Blue Devils junior Meghan Thomas, who played 110 minutes before giving way to sophomore Ali Kershner for the shootout, made arguably her biggest save with 6:18 left in the first overtime when she tipped Schweiss' rising rocket from 12 yards out over the crossbar.
"We have a tremendous amount of respect for their program," Geoff Bennett, CC's head coach, said of the visitors from the Atlantic Coast Conference. "We knew coming in, if we played to our capabilities, we could win. Scheele was very good but both offenses missed on some chances."
Robbie Church, head coach of the Blue Devils, was relieved see his team advance in the post-season but had nothing but praise for the Tigers.
"This was a great college soccer game," he said. "There was transitioning both ways. Both teams had chances. The environment was fantastic.
"Congratulations to Colorado College. What a great team they have. They battled and scratched and played. It's a shame it had to be settled on PKs. It's a tough way to lose but you've got to take your hats off to those girls and their coaching staff. They did a phenomenal job."
Vandersluis summed up the shootout from CC's point of view.
"It was just an emotional roller coaster," said the Colorado Springs product, who made good on her PK leading off the post-overtime session to give the Tigers an early advantage. "We were excited, then nervous, then obviously devastated with the result. With a game of chance and PKs, it's really unfortunate to go out like that. But it's also a great step for our program."
CC, which won both the regular-season and playoff championships in Conference USA, finishes the season with an overall record of 15-4-3.