With 34.2 seconds left in Sunday afternoon’s ACC Championship, Boston College lacrosse attacker Sam Apuzzo tracked down an errant Maggie Bill pass and flicked the ball to Christina Walsh, hitting the junior defender in stride across midfield. Even with a wide-open Kaileen Hart to her left, Walsh made a bee-line for the net. But as soon as she crossed the 8-meter line, North Carolina defender Kara Klages shoved her to the ground.
Walsh went flying forward, face-first. Right when she hit the turf, she barrel-rolled before ultimately curling up in a ball, grimacing in pain as the BC training staff trotted out to the field. Klages was administered a red card, disqualifying her for not only the rest of the game, but also the entirety of the Tar Heels’ first-round matchup in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Walsh, on the other hand—bloody nose and all—had to be helped off the field.
Trailing by three goals with less than 25 seconds remaining, the Eagles—who hadn’t lost a game in 336 days, dating back to last year’s National Championship—were hurting, both figuratively and literally.
Fortunately for BC, the foul gifted Tess Chandler with one final free-position attempt, but her shot soared over the net. Cara Urbank didn’t fare any better on the ensuing wraparound—in fact, she was stuffed by UNC goaltender Taylor Moreno.
The streak was over.
Moreno ran out the clock, simultaneously sealing the 14-11 victory and crowning the Tar Heels conference tournament champions for the third-consecutive year.
Just like Friday’s semifinal against Virginia Tech, No. 5 UNC (15-3, 6-1 Atlantic Coast) countered an early deficit with an offensive explosion, stringing together a 9-2 run over the course of 16 minutes and 17 seconds in the title game’s opening frame. But for the better portion of the first nine minutes of play, the Tar Heels were helpless on the offensive end of the field.
No. 2 BC (19-1, 7-0)—a team that recorded a combined 36 goals in the first two rounds of the ACC Tournament—looked as if it was primed for another high-scoring affair. The Eagles logged the first five shots of the game, two of which found the back of the cage, courtesy of Taylor Walker and Cara Urbank. Winning two of the first three draw controls, head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein’s team dominated possession, limiting the Tar Heels’ scoring opportunities in the early going.
Eventually, though, UNC cracked the code and attacked the crease with a flurry of inside shots. In a matter of one minute and 18 seconds, the game was tied—50 ticks later, the Tar Heels had the lead. Jamie Ortega and Katie Hoeg headlined the scoring spurt, tallying a combined six goals and three assists in the first half alone. The underclassmen attackers’ chemistry was through the roof, not to mention that both of them were practically unstoppable inside the eight.
After conceding five-straight goals, Apuzzo ended an 11-minute scoring drought with her first scoring play of the game. Nearly seven minutes later, Dempsey Arsenault scooped up a Tar Heels turnover, dashed downfield, and located Hart in a sea of green, who proceed to will her way to the crease, fighting through contact, before whipping a shot past Moreno.
Led by Ortega, UNC quickly fired back with four more goals. Although Apuzzo and Arsenault scored prior to intermission, the Tar Heels clearly had the momentum going into the half.
The teams exchanged goals in the opening three minutes of the second period, but head coach Jenny Levy’s didn’t wait any longer to distance itself from the ACC regular season champions. In the span of 10 minutes, four different Tar Heels ripped twine, extending their largest lead of the game. Ortega and Bill jump-started the scoring spree with a pair of highlight-reel goals, forcing Walker-Weinstein to call a timeout.
Out of the break, Apuzzo promptly righted the ship, flinging a bounce shot by Moreno for her team-high fourth goal of the day. In the grand scheme of things the sequence hardly disrupted the Tar Heels’ run. A bit more than two minutes down the line, Hoeg recorded her 36th goal of the year to restore UNC’s five-score lead. Moments later, Moreno tallied her 32nd save of the weekend—the most ever recorded in an ACC Tournament—ran out of the crease, and hurled the ball downfield, setting up Ela Hazar’s lone goal of the game.
In large part because of an increase in defensive pressure, BC goalie Lauren Daly didn’t give up another scoring play the rest of the way. That was only half the battle, though. Down six, the Eagles began to stage a comeback for the ages, logging back-to-back goals in just over a minute of game time.
But before BC could finish digging itself out of its grave, UNC clamped down on defense, holding the Eagles scoreless for the next six and a half minutes. BC upped the ante inside Tar Heel territory, but struggled to finish, converting just five of its 23 second-half shot attempts. Frustration spread as the Eagles’ turnovers, dropped passes, and missed shots piled up. To make matters worse, Brooke Troy and Hannah Hyatt were carded in the waning minutes of regulation.
Chandler cashed in on the Eagles’ second-to-last free-position attempt of the game to keep their championship hopes alive, but UNC won the impending draw control, effectively putting the contest to bed. Following Walsh’s breakaway and tumble, the Tar Heels held on for the win, redeeming their loss to BC back in March.
Instead of kicking off the NCAA Tournament as a top-two seed, the Eagles will likely find themselves behind undefeated Stony Brook, Maryland, and, now, UNC. Perhaps fittingly, BC will once again enter the dance as an underdog—an identity that Walker-Weinstein’s team actively embraces on a weekly basis.
Featured Image by Andy Backstrom / Heights Editor