CARY — Taking corner kicks normally is not one of her jobs, but as the final seconds of the second half ticked off the clock, Jessie Scarpa was the closest to the ball.
So she picked it up, ran to the corner flag and played a cross into the box, giving the North Carolina women’s soccer team one last chance at avoiding defeat Thursday against Notre Dame in its regular season finale.
Fewer than 20 seconds remained, a minuscule fraction of time in a 90-minute game.
The Tar Heels hadn’t found the net in the first 89-and-a-half minutes of the cool fall game, but they kept pressing on, trying to do anything they could to prevent a somber ending to the regular season.
Scarpa’s service skied over the scrum of Notre Dame and UNC players in the middle of the 18-yard box, but Bridgette Andrzejewski made a run to the far post, where she met the ball with her head, and, at last, gave the Tar Heels a goal with sixteen seconds remaining.
At the death, UNC found life, as it managed to tie 1-1 against the Fighting Irish.
“In my head, I was just so intense, and just ready to go,” Andrzejewski said. “On that final piece, Scarpa just ran out, got the ball, put it down, hit it as fast as she could, and I just kept my eye on the ball, headed in and it was great.”
Fourth-ranked UNC (12-2-2, 8-0-2 ACC) couldn’t quite reproduce another moment of magic in overtime to earn a win. But the result, especially because of the way it came about, might feel like a win in a way considering the Tar Heels found a way to salvage a point on a night where a loss seemed probable.
If not for the late heroics, UNC, which entered this week with a perfect 8-0-0 conference record, would’ve entered the upcoming ACC tournament with zero goals in its last two matches combined.
Instead, North Carolina will enter Sunday’s quarterfinals matchup against an opponent to be determined as the No. 2 seed, and still unbeaten against ACC foes. According to Andrzejewski, the tie can give UNC some momentum with the postseason looming.
“I think our fight definitely showed our character as a team,” Andrzejewski said. “I think going into the ACC quarterfinals on Sunday definitely gives us that level up with the intensity we ended on.”
Indeed, the Tar Heels’ intensity continued to build up as the night went on. After pulling even at the end of the second half, UNC dominated the possession and was the much more threatening side in overtime.
“To Notre Dame’s credit, first half was theirs,” head coach Anson Dorrance said. “I thought we got a little bit better in the second half, and then because of (Notre Dame’s) lack of depth we took over in the overtime periods.”
UNC’s best chance of grabbing a winner in overtime came in the 109th minute, as Joanna Boyles stood over a free kick from about 25 yards out. Having envisioned exactly where she wanted to put the ball, she stepped into her kick, placing a powerful shot on-frame, but Notre Dame goalkeeper Lexi Nicholas punched it over the crossbar.
“Needed a bit more bend on it,” said Boyles, who was a few inches away from a game-winner on her senior night.
Despite UNC not earning a win, Dorrance did see some positives. He lauded the play of Scarpa, whose on-the-fly decision to take the final corner kick saved the Tar Heels. Andrzejewski, Dorrance said, has only become even more important to the team since moving to a deeper role because of a season-ending injury suffered by first-year Emily Fox.
More than anything, Dorrance learned that his team is good enough to evade defeat on a night where it wasn’t at its best.
“To be a very good team, you’ve got have that capacity to not play well, and still get some kind of result,” he said. “Even though the tie’s not a great result, it’s not a devastatingly bad result either.”
That lesson could be a valuable one for the Tar Heels, whose games will only become more important from here on out.
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