The Tar Heels (8-3, 3-1 ACC) couldn’t seem to find the back of the net, as they went down 6-2 in the first half.
“We couldn’t have played a worse half,” head coach Jenny Levy said. “That first half was the worst lacrosse I’ve seen us play in a really long time.”
No. 5 North Carolina had 11 shots on goal in the first half, but only managed to score twice. Notre Dame goalie Samantha Giacolone locked down the crease and had nine saves in the opening 30 minutes. At times, the Irish’s defense swarmed attackers for UNC, making it difficult to get shots off. The Tar Heels only got off five shots in the first 11 minutes, with one going in.
Defensively, UNC struggled, especially as its offensive woes continued. Notre Dame (6-6, 2-4 ACC) scored twice in the final four minutes to push the lead to four before halftime in a game that looked like it might threaten to be a blowout.
“They were cutting through and we were losing our cutters,” sophomore goalie Elise Hennessey said. “They had a lot of open shots to the goal.”
The second half of the game was a different story.
North Carolina rung off 11 goals in the final 30 minutes. The ball zipped around the field and the team got plenty of opportunities and open shots. The most telling stat? Seven of the 11 goals scored in the second half were assisted.
“In the second half we brought it in the locker room and said, ‘This is about heart,’” Hennessey said.
The hero for North Carolina was first-year attacker Jamie Ortega, who scored a career-high six goals, five of which came in the second half.
“I think that I just knew I had to do something to change the momentum of the game,” Ortega said.
The New York native faced off against a familiar opponent in her sister, junior attacker Nikki Ortega, on her way to a career game against Notre Dame.
“It was kind of hard not to root for her, because obviously I want the best for her,” said Ortega. “But at the same time, I want to win.”
The elder Ortega opened up the game with the first score. That first goal was followed by none other than her younger sister firing a ball into the back of the Notre Dame net.
After pushing its lead to four in the second half, North Carolina faltered in the closing minutes of the game. UNC allowed three quick goals from the Irish to cut the lead to just one with just 1:49 left.
The game looked to be a repeat of its match against Virginia Tech, where the Hokies took their first lead late in the game, only for North Carolina to hold on with some clutch goals to close out the win.
“We’re getting used to playing (close games),” Levy said. “It is what it is. We’ll use it to teach and guide and hopefully continue to get better.”
North Carolina locked down in those last two minutes though, eventually forcing a critical turnover in the final seconds to secure the ball and run out the clock.
“We were able to play more Carolina lacrosse and find ourselves and do what we wanted to do,” Hennessey said.