“He brings his best effort every time he comes out on the field,” Breschi said. “Today he was able to capitalize on his opportunities and it was a terrific performance.”
Kelly continued to exploit Notre Dame’s weakness on the left side of the crease and scored again two minutes later, taking a 3-2 lead.
UNC’s momentum in the first half was buoyed by Johnson’s stout performance in goal. Poised defense was converted into flashy offense as junior Tanner Cook executed a textbook isolated dodge from the top of the box, giving him space to sting the ball top right and extend the advantage to 4-2 with 10:17 left in the half.
Notre Dame found new life after junior Bryan Costabile snuck a shot past UNC’s first-year goalkeeper with 59 seconds remaining in the half. Sophomore Connor Morin needed little time to capitalize off of his team’s rejuvenated momentum, scoring another with five seconds until the break to even out the score.
The streak of unanswered goals continued for Notre Dame at the start of the second half. A barrage of offense left the Tar Heels reeling, finding themselves down 7-4 with 9:54 left in the third quarter.
Junior co-captain Justin Anderson did he best to help the Tar Heels, bringing the score to 7-5 with his running shot. However, costly turnovers and ineffectiveness at the face off X plagued UNC’s comeback effort in the third quarter. Notre Dame responded with a close-range goal from junior Brian Willetts to bring the lead back to three.
With the game hanging in the balance, UNC’s first-year goalkeeper rose to the occasion once again. His third quarter stand kept the Tar Heels alive, and they escaped a shaky third quarter down 8-6.
The fourth quarter witnessed an uptick in offense from both sides, and UNC battled back to within one goal on multiple occasions. However, the team never got over the hump on defense.
Down two goal with 2:26 to play, Timmy Kelly gave the Tar Heels one last shot — scoring yet another diving goal to give himself a hat trick and tighten the game at 11-10. UNC’s defense needed to make a stop, and it was in these moments that coach Breschi found his team’s execution the most disappointing.
“We cut it to one a couple times: 8-7, 10-9, 11-10,” Breshci said. “We just didn’t seem to be able to make that (defensive) stop in the second half.”
Notre Dame punctuated its performance with one last goal with 1:09 remaining, securing a 12-10 victory over UNC in dramatic fashion.
Who stood out?
Despite a disappointing two-goal loss, one man prevented this game from resulting in a demoralizing blowout. In only his fourth collegiate start, first-year goalkeeper Caton Johnson tallied 13 saves on the day to keep the Tar Heels close until the end. Johnson’s presence in the goal has been a bright spot for Breschi during his team’s three game losing streak.
“I don’t think we can ask anymore of him than what he’s doing,” Breschi said. “He had a lot of pressure on him in the second half, and he certainly came up big.”
The one man who got the best of Johnson? Notre Dame’s Brendan Gleason. For his final home game in South Bend, the senior attackman played a special game while wearing a special jersey. He tied his career-high by scoring five goals while wearing the No. 40 uniform for the Fighting Irish. Each year, the team elects one player to don the number, which honors the life of a former team captain who died unexpectedly in 2007.
When was it decided?
With less than two minutes remaining in the game and down 11-10, the Tar Heels needed a defensive stop to give their offense one last chance to send the game to overtime. Despite a solid performance from Caton Johnson, his missed save on a stick-side shot from Gleason was the nail in the coffin for the Tar Heels on Saturday.
Why does it matter?
Saturday’s game was critical in deciding the layout of next week’s ACC Tournament. Had the Tar Heels found a way to win, they would have positioned themselves as the No. 3 seed with a first round bye. However, the loss drops them to the bottom seed in the tournament and leaves them with only one path to the NCAA tournament. The team must win three straight games and take the ACC tournament crown in order to keep their postseason hopes alive.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will return home as the No. 5 seed in the ACC Tournament to face No. 4 seed Syracuse — the No. 7 team in the country who beat them just last week. Breschi did not understate the gravity of next week’s matchup, which will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 25.
“It’s a big one,” Breshchi said bluntly. “This is like the playoffs for us.”
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