Top-ranked North Carolina field hockey (19-0, 6-0) secured their spot in the NCAA semifinals with a win over No. 9 Saint Joseph’s (16-5, 7-0) with a score of 5-2.
The Tar Heels brought some pressure early, tallying seven shots in the first 6 minutes of the game. They also had the chance to capitalize on three early penalty corners but failed to do so.
UNC got on the board first with a goal from senior forward Paityn Wirth. Senior forward Erin Matson had the original attempt, and Wirth converted off the rebound from the save.
Saint Joseph’s had the opportunity to tie it with two penalty corners late in the first quarter, but they could not get a shot off. The Hawks did not seem to have any chance to knot the score throughout the entirety of the first quarter.
Saint Joseph’s began to play with more urgency in the second quarter and gained substantial time of possession early. However, the Hawks still had no chances to get a shot off. On the other end of the field, physical play from Saint Joseph’s granted North Carolina a penalty corner. Wirth took the corner and Matson was able to capitalize off of assists from both Wirth and senior back Romea Riccardo for her 23rd goal of the season. Matson’s goal put the Tar Heels up 2-0 with 3:04 remaining in the first half.
Two minutes later, a wide-open Matson earned her second goal of the game off of a quick pass to the front of the cage by Wirth. The Tar Heels went into the locker room with a 3-0 lead and allowed no shots by Saint Joseph’s in the first half.
The second half could not have started better for the North Carolina- Matson earned a penalty stroke and rocketed the ball into the left side of the net to put the Tar Heels up 4-0 only 21 seconds into the third quarter.
Saint Joseph’s quickly answered 34 seconds later off a third penalty corner shot by senior midfielder Leigh James. Her seventh goal of the season narrowed the Tar Heel lead to 4-1. UNC could not convert off a late penalty corner taken by first-year forward/midfielder Ashley Sessa, and closed out the third quarter with a 4-1 lead.
Sessa started off the scoring in the fourth quarter with a nifty backhand from the top of the shooting circle. Sessa’s eighth goal of the season put the Tar Heels up 5-1 with 11 minutes left in regulation.
Saint Joseph’s answered three minutes later with a shot from beside the cage that snuck by first-year goalie Kylie Walbert and ricocheted off the post and into the net. North Carolina’s lead shrunk back to 5-2 with eight minutes remaining.
The Tar Heels did not let up and came out on top with a three goal victory.
Who stood out?
Matson had an exceptional final showing in Karen Shelton Stadium with three goals and 58 minutes of playing time.
Wirth also had a successful last outing in Chapel Hill with one goal and two assists in 56 minutes of playing time.
The North Carolina defense was dialed in during the first half, allowing no Saint Joseph shots. The second half had a similar result, as the defense only allowed five shots on goal and two goals.
When was it decided?
The 3-0 lead going into the locker room at halftime was a difficult pill to swallow for the Hawks. The explosive offense and defense demonstrated by the Tar Heels gave Saint Joseph’s little opportunity to get stops and shots on goal. The two back-to-back goals by Matson towards the end of the second quarter put the Hawks in a tough spot coming out of halftime and gave the Tar Heels the momentum they needed to navigate the rest of the game.
Why does it matter?
The Tar Heels are headed to the NCAA Semifinals for the 26th time in program history. This win moves North Carolina to 19-0 on the season and extends their undefeated record. The Tar Heels are looking to secure their 10th NCAA Championship amongst a talented remaining field of teams.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will face the winner of No. 6 Penn State/No. 16 Albany in Storrs, Connecticut at either 12 or 3 p.m this Friday, Nov. 18.
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