The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 8th

With win over Syracuse, UNC field hockey will have a shot at redemption

Members of the UNC Field Hockey team celebrate after junior forward Erin Matson (1) scores the second goal of the game against Syracuse. The Tar Heels won the ACC Semifinals with a 4-3 score on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.
Buy Photos Members of the UNC Field Hockey team celebrate after junior forward Erin Matson (1) scores the second goal of the game against Syracuse. The Tar Heels won the ACC Semifinals with a 4-3 score on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.

Following UNC field hockey's 4-0 win in the ACC Championship quarterfinals on Thursday, the Tar Heels had a much more eventful game Friday night in the semifinals game against Syracuse, where UNC came away with a 4-3 victory. 

“It was dramatic, back and forth,” head coach Karen Shelton said, who set the NCAA all-time record for wins as a field hockey head coach with 701 wins following the victory. “We still found a way to win. That’s just how sports (are) sometimes, but our kids hung tough.”

UNC field hockey will play Louisville in the ACC Championship on Sunday at noon.

The majority of the game was defensively intense — North Carolina scored the only goal of the first half early in the first quarter. Both teams had difficulty moving through the opposing defense and making good passes. Each team ended the first half with three shots on goal, while the Tar Heels doubled up with eight total shots to Syracuse's four. 

Entering the fourth quarter, the teams were tied 1-1 with their respective seasons — and a shot at an ACC title — on the line. 

With 11:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, junior forward Erin Matson scored her first goal of the game to take a 2-1 lead. Moments later, Matson dished an assist to sophomore midfielder Paityn Wirth to go up 3-1.

Though North Carolina had momentum going and the crowd in its favor, Syracuse responded with a goal to cut the lead to 3-2 with 8:38 remaining.

“We had a let down, and they came down and scored right away," Shelton said. 

With 48 seconds left in the game, Syracuse scored a goal on a shot from Hailey Bitters, forcing the game into overtime. 

“We needed to make sure that we had our heads on straight,” Matson said. “I think we all do a good job of coming together and saying, ‘Screw what just happened, let’s move on. Focus on shutting them down and sending them home.’”

Knowing how the team prepares for this moment, Shelton was not concerned when overtime began.

“Knowing our kids, how much time each week that we spent on overtime, that we carried a little bit of extra confidence going into it,” Shelton said. “I felt like, ‘This is our time. We’re ready for this. Bring it on.’”

After Matson drew a penalty shot opportunity, senior midfielder Bryn Boylan won the game for the Tar Heels by converting the opportunity in the fifth minute of overtime. It was just her second goal of the season and propelled the Tar Heels to the ACC Championship. 

“I didn’t know that it was gonna be me when we did earn the stroke,” Boylan said. “Coach said ‘Who do you want it to be?' and Erin said ‘I want Bryn to take it.’”

With UNC securing the 4-3 victory on Friday, the team will now have a shot at redemption against the team that broke the Tar Heels' historic 47-game winning streak earlier this season: Louisville. 

The rematch is set for Sunday, with UNC entering as the two-seed against the ACC regular season champion Cardinals.

“Obviously, we’re not happy that they’re the ones that cut our streak,” Matson said. “But I don’t think we really focus on it too much. We’re just treating it like it’s just another game.”

Entering Sunday’s game, Shelton says she recognizes that her team has become an underdog, but she is eager for the challenge.

“It’s been three years since we’ve been the underdog,” Shelton said. “That’s an easier position to be in. So I like it. I like the revenge factor, and I like that we’ll be the underdog on our home field. All I can ask of our kids is to give it their best effort.”

@jerem11ah

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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