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UNC women's soccer drops first game of the season in 2-1 ACC Tournament opener against Pitt

Pittsburgh sophomore goalkeeper Ellie Breech (0) blocks a ball during the match against UNC in the first round of the ACC Women's Soccer Championship at Dorrance Field on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023.

After completing the regular season unbeaten for the first time since 2004, the fourth-seeded No. 3 North Carolina women’s soccer team (10-1-8, 5-1-5 ACC) suffered its first loss and saw its quest for a 23rd ACC Tournament title come to an end against five seed No. 20 Pittsburgh (14-4-1, 7-2-1 ACC) in a 2-1 extra time loss in the first round Sunday night at Dorrance Field.

It was Pitt’s first victory over the Tar Heels in program history.

“We’re going to use it as motivation,” redshirt sophomore forward Ally Sentnor said after the match. “We’re going to use it to hopefully propel us through the [NCAA] Tournament. We [hadn’t] had a loss yet this season, so it’s just another resilience block that we’re going to use to go forward.”

The match began with both teams jostling for possession and neither dominating the ball. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Emmie Allen made the first save of the match in the seventh minute, stopping a low Panthers’ shot from outside the box. 

The only big chance of the first half came in the 23rd minute when Pitt midfielder Deborah Abiodun headed a ball towards Allen from close range after a long, floated free kick. The UNC keeper was up to the challenge, making a good reaction save.

Without a shot on goal, the Tar Heels introduced six substitutes into the fray in the 30th minute to try to inject some life into the game. They finally did force Pitt goalkeeper Ellie Breech into a save in the 34th minute.

While UNC grew into the game late, it struggled to connect in the opponent’s half and create chances for much of the first 45. The Panthers outshot North Carolina 8-5 and the score was 0-0 at halftime.

Just three minutes into the second half, a big chance fell to the feet of sophomore forward Tori DellaPeruta. Sentnor played a clever ball that gave DellaPeruta space to fire at Breech’s goal. But after maneuvering onto her right foot in the center of the box, she couldn’t keep her shot down.

Pitt nearly broke the deadlock in the 60th minute. Abiodun got her head on the ball from a corner and forced Allen into action again. She made another last-ditch reaction save to keep the Tar Heels level.

Allen was forced into action again in the 72nd minute when Pitt forward Amanda West sliced into the box and aimed low towards the near post. She made the save.

But less than two minutes later, she was finally beaten.

Panther forward Landy Mertz played an inch perfect cross into the six-yard box, finding an unmarked Ellie Coffield, who headed home to give Pitt the lead. 

UNC only trailed for three minutes, however, as Sentnor sprung into action. She picked up the ball outside the box, created a yard of space and unleashed a left-footed screamer. The ball exploded off her foot, whizzing through the air and rippling the net to level the score.

“I’m proud that we were able to come back and put one in the back of the net,” Sentnor said. “And I’m proud of the grit and determination we had.”

In the 82nd minute, DellaPeruta found herself alone in the penalty area with a chance to give the Tar Heels a lead, but skied her shot again.

The game opened up the last few minutes with both sides looking for a winner. Sentnor nearly doubled her goal tally, sending a free kick just over the crossbar in the final minutes. 

A frantic end of regulation did not produce a goal, and the match went into extra time tied 1-1. Pitt outshot UNC 17-9 over the 90 minutes.

UNC dominated play at the start of extra time. DellaPeruta failed to convert a golden chance in the first minutes when junior midfielder Emily Colton played her in behind one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Breech stood firm, saving the low shot. She made another save minutes later, this time denying senior forward Avery Patterson.

Then it was DellaPeruta again who curled a shot past Breech destined for the far post, only to be cleared off the line.

“She’s getting into good positions,” head coach Anson Dorrance said about his striker. “When there’s a good chance created, it oftentimes has to do with her making a good run and setting herself up well. For some reason, she’s just a snake bit in the penalty box.”

Despite the chances for UNC, it was Pitt who took the lead. Mertz dashed down the right flank and played a ball for West, who headed home. Pitt led 2-1 after 100 minutes.

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The Tar Heels pushed in the second extra time period but couldn’t find a way through. 

“We’re very concerned,” Dorrance said in reference to the offense. “We’ve got to do a better job finishing the chances we create.”

It’s a common refrain for his Tar Heels this season. Dorrance and company will look to improve in the striking department on the training ground before the NCAA Tournament. The selection show is Nov. 6. 

@dthsports |