Spearheaded by four goals by senior forward Erin Matson, the No. 1 UNC field hockey team (9-0) beat the No. 14 Liberty Flames (7-4), 6-3, in Lynchburg, Va.
The Tar Heels got out to an early lead thanks to a penalty stroke goal from Matson in the opening five minutes of the game. Sophomore midfielder Lisa Slinkert quickly followed, scoring a goal just over two minutes later on an assist from first-year Ryleigh Heck to put UNC up 2-0.
Liberty clawed back a bit, as senior midfielder Lizzie Hamlett found the back of the goal off of an assist from senior defender Jodie Conolly to bring the Flames within one goal as the first quarter closed out.
UNC quickly put away the game after this point, and proceeded to score four unanswered goals over the course of the next three quarters to jump out to a 6-1 lead. Matson was responsible for three of the goals within this stretch, and senior forward Paityn Wirth added one as well.
Despite two late goals from Liberty in the fourth quarter, the Flames weren’t able to climb out of the five-goal hole created by Matson's explosive offensive performance and UNC's speedy transition ability. Liberty eventually dropped the game 6-3.
Who stood out?
Matson was a clear standout for the Tar Heels, leading the team with four goals on the game. This marks the twelfth time in Matson’s career and first time this season that she has had a three or more goals in a game. Furthermore, the veteran was essential in UNC’s mid-game swing and four-goal run, as she scored three of the goals and assisted on the other goal during the stretch.
Sophomore back Kelly Smith is an unsung hero of Sunday’s game, as she made a huge defensive save with just over 11 minutes to go in the third quarter to keep UNC’s streak alive. Her and senior midfielder Meredith Sholder were critical to the defensive pressure that the Tar Heels applied to the Flames throughout the matchup.
When was it decided?
UNC’s defense continued to stifle the Flames well into the third quarter, and the Tar Heels’ quick transition from defense to offense allowed them to extend their lead in the second half.
Wirth’s goal in the beginning of the second half put UNC up 4-1 in the 34th minute, and displayed North Carolina's transition ability. In a matter of two passes, the Tar Heels moved the ball from the midfield to Matson in the circle, who dished the ball to Wirth for her second goal on the season. From this point on, UNC was able to settle and slow down its ball movement to run out the clock with a solid 3-goal lead.
Why does it matter?
Statistically, Liberty has a better offense than UNC in terms of goals and scoring margin, with 4.6 goals per game and a 3.71 scoring margin entering Sunday's matchup. So far this fall, the Flames are putting up better offensive numbers than they were in last year’s national championship run.
Heading into Sunday, the Tar Heels had won 7 out of the last 8 matchups between UNC and Liberty, with the sole loss coming last fall. This year, UNC was able to shut down Liberty’s high-powered offense, holding the Flames to 3 goals to maintain the Tar Heels’ undefeated streak in Lynchburg.
When do they play next?
UNC will hit the road again, traveling to Newton, Mass. to take on Boston College at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7.
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