North Carolina entered Friday night’s matchup against Boston College field hockey with the best scoring defense in the NCAA. The top-ranked Tar Heels had only conceded six goals all season—four less than every other team in the country—logging seven shutouts in the process. BC, 2-13 all-time against UNC, knew what it was up against.
“I mean, they know the stats,” head coach Kelly Doton said after the game. “[The Tar Heels] haven’t given up more than one goal in six games—shutouts the rest of the time—we had to put them under pressure pretty well.”
That the Eagles did, and 11 minutes in, Lucy Lytle beat UNC goalkeeper Amanda Hendry for a far-post goal, recording her eighth and ninth points of the season. Up until the final stages of regulation, BC kept its foot on the pedal, ultimately outshooting the six-time defending national champions, 9-8. The problem was, of UNC’s eight shots, four found the back of the cage.
Led by Erin Matson, who tallied a game-high three points, the Tar Heels rallied to close out the first half with a pair of goals and then tacked on two more in the second period. Not only did they live up to their reputation as the highest-scoring offense in the nation, but they also secured a commanding 4-1 victory, preserving their perfect record.
The three-goal defeat is the No. 12 Eagles’ (8-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast) worst of the year. In fact, all four of their other losses were decided by just one scoring play—two of which came in overtime. Judging by the first 15 minutes of action, such a lopsided scoring margin would have appeared rather unreasonable.
Even though No. 1 UNC (14-0, 6-0) controlled possession in the early going, notching two of the game’s first three shots, the Eagles more than held their own. Applying the press, BC frequently forced the Tar Heels outside the circle, protecting goalie Sarah Dwyer from the most lethal scoring attack in the country.
After threatening with a Frederique Haverhals penalty corner, the Eagles made their move. Located at the edge of the left side of the circle, Nell Webber squeezed a pass by the stick of Courtnie Williamson, right into a pocket of open space at the doorstep of the cage. Lytle pounced on the opportunity, sprinting to the ball and looping it past an out-of-position Hendry.
For all of seven and a half minutes, it looked as if Doton and Co. might have an upset on their hands. Then, UNC forced back-to-back corners, the second of which spelled the beginning of the end for BC. Haverhals attempted to clear the ball out of Eagles territory, but Tar Heels midfielder Malin Evert intercepted it, charged forward, and delivered a pass to Catherine Hayden in the circle. Challenged by Sky Caron, the junior faked left before dumping the ball off to her right, locating Marissa Creatore. Straddling the end line, she flung a cross past the leg of Dwyer for Matson, who—with one hand—extended her stick, tapping the ball into the cage.
BC nearly retook the lead with about 14 minutes left in the opening period. With just Hendry to beat, Brooke Matherson received a backhanded pass right in front of the net. The graduate student poked the ball through the UNC goalie, but the shot didn’t have quite enough juice on it—before it could roll into the cage, Cassie Sumfest came swooping in to jutt the ball away from the post, recording a crucial team save.
Soon after, the Tar Heels turned another BC turnover into their second scoring play of the evening. Following an errant Eagles pass, Abby Pitcairn slotted the ball to a wide-open Creatore. The upperclassman glided down the right side of the field, outrunning Lytle into the circle. In the nick of time, Creatore got off a pass to Hayden, who—without hesitation—whacked the ball through Dwyer’s five-hole to give UNC a 2-1 lead heading into the break.
The pace of play certainly slowed in the second period. That’s not to say that the Tar Heels let up. Less than five minutes into the latter portion of play, they returned to their goal-scoring ways. A Caron foul near the end line gifted UNC with a penalty corner, effectively enabling Matson to dial up a dangerous shot for her teammates. The freshman inserted the ball toward the top of the circle. Thanks to a Yentl Leemans stick stop, Ashley Hoffman had a wide-open look on net. Immediately, she ripped the ball past a sprawling Dwyer, all but putting the match out of reach.
Flash-forward 15 or so minutes, and Eva Van’t Hoog single-handedly put the icing on the cake. The senior split a pair of BC defenders, veered left, and whipped a backhand shot into the back of the cage, chasing the Eagles’ goalkeeper from the game. Dwyer—who recorded three-straight shutouts and earned ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors at the end of September—has now allowed nine goals in her last three starts.
Jonna Kennedy replaced the junior in net and, aside from a self-destructive UNC 2-on-1, faced little to no offensive pressure. BC didn’t have much better luck. Actually, neither team logged a single shot over the course of the final 15 minutes of regulation, and the Tar Heels wrapped up yet another blowout win, a completely different story from the teams’ 2017 overtime showdown. Doton, who recognized that the Eagles played far better than the scoreboard suggests, isn’t concerned with the severity of the defeat.
“There’s no bad losses out there,” Doton said. “Again, it hurts—everyone wants to win—but you definitely got to look at the video, and we’ve gotta come back on Sunday to face a tough UMass team.”
Beating UNC was a tall task. After all, the Tar Heels currently lead the country in scoring margin, offense, and defense. The fact that BC logged a goal and outshot UNC is an achievement in itself. What the Eagles take away from Friday night’s top-15 matchup could end up being more important than the actual outcome itself.
Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Staff