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The Daily Tar Heel

Strong second half lifts UNC field hockey to 2-1 win over Syracuse in ACC Championship semifinals

UNC freshman forward Ryleigh Heck (12) handles the ball during the game against Syracuse on Oct. 14, 2022 at Karen Shelton Stadium.

In the semifinals of the ACC Championship, the North Carolina field hockey team picked up a narrow 2-1 win over Syracuse to advance to the final on Friday.

What happened?

Just two minutes into game play, the Orange earned the first penalty corner of the afternoon. Syracuse’s initial shot was saved by first-year goalkeeper Kylie Walbert, which was popped out and shot up again and blocked by the stick of sophomore midfielder Jasmina Smolenaars. UNC drew two more penalty corners in the quarter, registering shots from Smolenaars and senior forward Erin Matson, but these attempts were unsuccessful. 

North Carolina began the scoreless second quarter with a drive and shot on goal by Matson, as well as two more corners. First year Sietske Brüning rocketed the first penalty corner shot wide, and the second corner, inserted by senior forward Paityn Wirth, was passed around the perimeter of the circle before Wirth shot it again and missed. 

Facing pressure from the Orange offense, UNC’s back line, led by senior back Romea Riccardo, cleared balls from crucial circle penetrations to keep the Orange from seizing scoring opportunities and both teams entered the break scoreless.

The Tar Heels earned their first corner of the second half early into the third quarter. With an insert by first-year forward Ashley Sessa and touches by Matson, North Carolina earned a penalty stroke. One-on-one with the Syracuse goalkeeper, Matson blew the ball to the left side of the cage to open up the scoring.

In the fourth quarter, UNC drew its sixth corner of the afternoon. The ball was stick-stopped by Riccardo, shot by Brüning to the center of the cage, then deflected off the stick of first-year forward Ryleigh Heck which soared over the goalkeeper’s head to extend the lead.

The Orange responded about four minutes later, crossing the ball from the left side of the circle and a bat-in by Syracuse forward Eefke van den Nieuwenhof. Though UNC challenged the goal, the call was upheld, leaving the score at 2-1 with eight minutes to play. The Orange kept fighting until the end of regulation and notched a shot in the final 30 seconds of game, but the score stood and UNC held onto the win.

Who stood out? 

Riccardo had multiple key stops on the afternoon to clear the circle and suffocate Syracuse’s press.

On the offensive end, Matson clocked in at six shots and four shots on goal, followed by Heck, who contributed two shots and a goal. Wirth was also a standout, inserting some penalty corners and getting two shots herself.

When was it decided?

This match marked only the third time the Tar Heels were held scoreless at the half, with the other two instances coming against Iowa and Wake Forest. 

In the matchup against Iowa, North Carolina had a come-from-behind win, scoring three goals in the second half. Against Wake Forest, Matson scored twice in the second half, which was similar to Wednesday's outing. As soon as UNC netted a two-goal lead, it seemed decided in Durham, but the Orange pressed to not be eliminated until the clock struck zero.

Why does it matter?

With a No. 1 rank and an undefeated record, North Carolina had a lot on the line entering the ACC Championship. 

The last time UNC met the Orange was less than a month prior, when the Tar Heels dominated in a 6-1 win in Karen Shelton Stadium.  With the win on Wednesday, UNC will be on its way to grab its sixth ACC title in a row, which would be the program's 25th overall.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels will face either Wake Forest or Virginia in the ACC Championship on Friday at 2 p.m. in Durham.

@dthsports |

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