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Friday February 3rd

Hampered by injury, Leemans scores game-winning goal versus Boston College

<p>UNC senior midfielder Yentl Leemans (18) takes control of the ball from a Boston College player during a game in Karen Shelton Stadium on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. The Tar Heels beat Boston College 3-2.</p>
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UNC senior midfielder Yentl Leemans (18) takes control of the ball from a Boston College player during a game in Karen Shelton Stadium on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. The Tar Heels beat Boston College 3-2.

With 2:43 left in the fourth quarter, the fans at Karen Shelton Stadium fell silent. 

In that moment, the No. 1 North Carolina field hockey team and No. 13 Boston College were tied, with UNC's Yentl Leemans preparing for a penalty corner. 

North Carolina was without sophomore Erin Matson, the nation's leading scorer who's in India representing the U.S. National Team. Despite the absence of their best player, the Tar Heels, and an injured Leemans, still had a chance to deliver.

And deliver they did.

Leemans scored the game-winning goal off a give-and-go penalty corner with redshirt first-year Romea Riccardo, securing a 3-2 victory for North Carolina to preserve an undefeated season and clinch the ACC regular season title. 

In order for Leemans’ goal to happen, she had to overcome obstacles along the way. She wasn't even sure if she would be able to play against the Eagles.

She was hit on the toe in practice the day before, and though X-rays showed that it wasn't broken, it was badly bruised. It was enough to keep her out of the Tar Heels' game against Liberty last Sunday.

After sitting out practice this week, Leemans returned to play against Boston College with a wrapped toe and a special insole inside her right shoe that gave her toe the support it needed.

She got support from her coaches as well. 

“My coach came up to me and was like ‘You got this, it’s fine,'" Leemans said. “It feels great to get that support from her right before the game and feel they trust me.”

In the back-and-forth game, both teams were unable to finish their chances to start the game. Friday marked just the second time this season the Tar Heels did not score in the first half. 

Late in the third quarter, Boston College finally scored the first goal of the game to take a 1-0 lead. Trailing by one heading into the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels would need some more late magic.

“Definitely nerve wracking, but I think we are a fourth-quarter team," said sophomore forward Riley Fulmer, who replaced Matson in the starting lineup. "There was another game against Princeton earlier this year – we were in a similar scenario. None of us were freaking out too much, knowing we still had time left.”

Plenty of action happened in those remaining minutes.

Early in the fourth quarter, Fulmer scored UNC’s first goal of the game and tied the score, 1-1. Shortly after, senior Megan DuVernois scored off a penalty stroke, but with 4:34 left to play, Boston College’s Elizabeth Warner scored to even things back up.

With little time left, North Carolina was awarded a penalty corner, and Leemans, ready to take a seat on the bench, decided to stay in for one last play.

“We had three minutes left, and I was personally so tired,” Leemans said. “I was asking for a sub, and then we had a corner. I was like, 'I will do this corner, and then I'm going to sub out,' because I thought we were going into overtime so I need at least a few minutes to rest.” 

As the Tar Heels got into position, Leemans had an idea. 

“I was like, OK, we have to do a pass (to the right side) because the other corners we did before weren't working,” Leemans said.

As sophomore midfielder Abby Pitcairn passed the ball to Leemans in the circle, the crowd went quiet with anticipation.

Leemans guided the ball to Riccardo and positioned herself to the right of the goalie. When Riccardo's pass fell to Leemans’ stick, she snuck the ball past the goalie to give North Carolina the win. 

The Tar Heels hugged each other in celebration. Leemans, a senior captain, had to overcome a toe injury to get here, helping her team earn a hard-fought ACC win.

But according to her coach, that's nothing new for Leemans. 

“She is an absolute warrior,” head coach Karen Shelton said. “She is the hardest worker on the team. She has a great attitude. She is as tough as nails.”

@TorreNetkovick

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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