The No. 2 North Carolina field hockey team (3-0, 0-0 ACC) held on to its early lead to top the No. 13 Princeton Tigers (0-1, 0-0 Ivy League) , 4-3 on Friday night at Karen Shelton Stadium.
UNC jumped out to an early lead after first-year midfielder and forward Ryleigh Heck scored a goal just over two minutes into the game. Senior forward Erin Matson brought the ball up the left side of the field and found senior forward and midfielder Meredith Sholder dashing down the middle of the turf. Sholder chipped the ball inside the shooting circle to Heck, who was able to tap the ball in for the first goal of the night and her second goal of the season.
The Tigers quickly evened the score thanks to a penalty corner a minute later. Senior Sammy Popper, on the second penalty corner in a row for Princeton, scored off an assist from sophomore midfielder Beth Yeager. Just over three minutes later, in the seventh minute, an unassisted goal from Matson gave UNC the lead again.
Matson facilitated another goal in the second period to make the score 3-1. Weaving through several defenders, she passed the ball out to the corner before receiving it beside the baseline and finding sophomore Lisa Slinkert in front of the goal. With a pass to Slinkert, the midfielder from The Netherlands fired the ball into the goal to extend UNC's lead.
Another Princeton penalty corner in the 28th minute led to another goal for the Tigers, as Yeager fired a shot past UNC sophomore goalkeeper Abigail Taylor. The first half ended with the Tar Heels up 3-2 over the Tigers.
Early on in the third period, Princeton had another prime opportunity to score as the Tigers earned yet another penalty corner. Senior forward Ali McCarthy took the shot for the Tigers, but had her attempt blocked by first-year Kylie Walbert in the goal. The third period continued to play out in a very slow and methodical manner, with both teams failing to score despite a multitude of player-up opportunities.
As the clock ticked down in the final period, the Tar Heels earned a penalty corner and the chance to extend their lead. UNC capitalized on this chance, with Sessa inserting the ball and Matson scoring the goal to make the score 4-2.
Despite a late push by the Tigers, who capitalized on a penalty stroke goal in the final minutes of the game, Princeton couldn't overcome its deficit and erase UNC's lead.
Who stood out?
Matson was a key facilitator on offense throughout the game. She ended Friday with two goals on four shots and one assist. Aside from her offensive presence, her vocal leadership was on display, as she stepped in to calm down her goalkeepers and was constantly communicating on the attack.
Walbert's save early in the third period was a critical play in maintaining UNC's momentum in the second half. The first-year was quick to perform after entering the game in the third period and completed her fourth save of the season.
When was it decided?
After UNC established an early 3-1 lead, the Tigers began clawing back into the game. A penalty corner late in the second period put Princeton within one point of the Tar Heels. The Tigers were primed to tie the score with another penalty corner in the third period, but Walbert denied Princeton's equalizer to keep the score at 3-2.
With just over three minutes to go, Matson capitalized on a penalty corner to extend UNC's lead to two goals, effectively ending the game for the Tigers.
Why does it matter?
Despite the eventual win, the Tar Heels almost gave up the game in its final minutes due to foul trouble. Although time ran out before Princeton could make its comeback, in the future UNC will need to maintain its composure when opponents make a final push to avoid an upset.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will take on Penn in their second game of the ACC-Ivy Challenge at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday at Karen Shelton Stadium.
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