CARY — When Jelani Pieters ran down the pitch to collect the ball and saw Giovanni Montesdeoca split to the right, he dribbled left.
Montesdeoca made the defender bite for just a second, enough time for Pieters to slice through three defenders. The redshirt junior forward then fired the shot that punched No. 4 North Carolina’s ticket to the ACC Championship for the first time since 2012 in a 2-1 win over No. 8 Duke on Wednesday.
The moment was a reminder of the kind of offensive weapon Pieters is, even though it was only his second goal of the season.
Last season, Pieters was second in goals scored with nine and third in assists with seven on a team that made a run to the NCAA semifinals. But the emergence of Montesdeoca and junior midfielders Jack Skahan and Mauricio Pineda has caused Pieters to be less relied on to score this season.
Still, with the match on the line, there he was with a response just 29 seconds after first-year Blue Devil midfielder Issa Rayyan’s goal in the 87th minute.
“I look at it as a successful year,” Pieters said. “I’ve never been to an ACC final, let alone the semis. So, this year has been a success for me. I don’t rate it off my personal success. It’s (about) how the team does.”
That unselfish attitude is contagious and has become an embodiment of this group of Tar Heels.
Even when Montesdeoca, a sophomore midfielder, scored his seventh goal of the season in the 29th minute off a corner kick from Skahan, he didn’t care for the recognition.
Montesdeoca’s goal tied him for first on the team. He’s also tied for most assists on the club with four.