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The Daily Tar Heel

Andrzejewski, Scarpa connect in final seconds to tie No. 24 Notre Dame in regular season finale

Bridgette v Notre Dame

Forward Bridgette Andrzejewski (4) fights for the ball against Notre Dame on Thursday night at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.

CARY — For the majority of the No. 4 North Carolina women’s soccer team’s game against No. 24 Notre Dame on Thursday night, the Tar Heels were outplayed, out-hustled and were dangerously close to suffering their first ACC loss of the season. However, all the Tar Heels needed was to borrow some luck from the Irish, as Bridgette Andrzejewski’s equalizing header with under 20 seconds left prevented the defeat, ultimately leading to a 1-1 draw in the final regular season game.

What happened?

The first half was an evenly matched affair for the most part, but Notre Dame (9-5-4, 5-3-2 ACC) was the team that primarily maintained control. 

Both teams were playing at an incredibly fast pace, which gave the Fighting Irish an early advantage due to their quickness. While UNC (12-2-2, 8-0-2 ACC) was outnumbered in shots 8 to 4 in the opening half, that did not mean the Tar Heels were unable to get excellent scoring chances. 

One splendidly opportune moment was when first-year forward Alessia Russo attempted to dink the ball over the goalkeeper in the 10th minute. Notre Dame goalkeeper Lexi Nicholas made an acrobatic save to stop the scoring opportunity. 

Following halftime, the Fighting Irish were the first team to leave their imprint on the scoreboard, due to forward Jennifer Westendorf’s one-touch left-footed strike that resulted from a timely counterattack in the 58th minute. The Tar Heels responded by trying to push the attack, playing more aggressively and having a restored sense of urgency. 

Even with this being the case, UNC often struggled offensively for the duration of the second half. They were turned the ball over in critical moments and often miscommunicated with one another on passes.

 In the final minute of regulation, the Tar Heels were graced with one last hope in the form of a corner kick with less than half a minute remaining. Well-aware that time was not on their side, Jessie Scarpa quickly picked up the ball, frantically ran over to the corner, and kicked a well-placed strike inside the six-yard box that found Andrzejewski as she headed the ball into the back of the net with just seconds to spare, forcing the game into overtime. 

The thunderous applause of the crowd roared through WakeMed Soccer Park while Andrzejewski’s teammates engulfed her with excitement preceding the first overtime period. 

During the additional play, UNC was sparked with a huge momentum shift. Even though the Tar Heels absolutely dominated the time of possession in the overtime periods, they never fully capitalized by finishing with the golden goal that would have completed the comeback. The closest they came was in the final minute of the second overtime period, when Joanna Boyles’ 24-yard free kick was saved by Nicolas, cementing the tie.

Who stood out?

Scarpa and Andrzejewski’s last-minute connection made them the heroes for the Tar Heels. Andrzejewski's header to steal Notre Dame’s win in the closing seconds could not have happened without Scarpa’s brilliant assist. Since returning from a knee injury that forced her to miss nine straight games this season, Scarpa has been playing sparingly to slowly incorporate herself back into the flow of collegiate play. 

After being substituted into the game in the 88th minute, not only did she have the awareness of how much time was left on the clock, but she had the initiative to hurriedly sprint to the corner and deliver the ball exactly where it needed to be for Andrzejewski to complete the score. The feat demonstrated her experience and the ability to perform under pressure. 

Why does it matter?

This game had implications for seeding in the upcoming ACC Tournament, as well as seeding for the NCAA Tournament next month. But perhaps more importantly, this event was the last home game for nine seniors on North Carolina's roster. A defeat would have been a disheartening way to go out for those players. It would have been UNC’s first loss in the ACC this year, and it could have shaken the team’s positive momentum. Thankfully for the Tar Heels, this last-second heroics prevented this outcome. UNC can now prepare for tournament play without an upsetting loss to gloom over.

When do they play next?

UNC will open the postseason by hosting a quarterfinal game of the 2017 ACC Women’s Soccer Championship Tournament on Sunday afternoon in WakeMed Soccer Park at 1 p.m.

@KEberly1996

sports@dailytarheel.com

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