With only three games left in the regular season, the Syracuse Orange (12-4, 5-1 ACC) desperately needed a statement win for their NCAA Tournament resume. They got it on Saturday with a huge, 13-11 road upset against No. 2 North Carolina (12-2, 5-1 ACC). SU never trailed in this game and it was tied only once.
The Orange had a balanced attack with seven different players scoring goals. Emily Hawryschuk led the team with four goals while Devon Parker, Natalie Wallon and Neena Merola tallied two goals each. Riley Donahue, Alie Jimerson and Mary Rahal added a goal and an assist each. Cara Quimby had three assists while Alexa Radziewicz had another assist. Morgan Widner had also had a big day with 10 out of SU's 14 draw controls.
Asa Goldstock had probably one of her best games of the season at goalie with 12 saves and in general, the defense did a fantastic job of muzzling a high-powered Tar Heel offense that has averaged about 15 goals a game. North Carolina did not break over the double digit mark in scoring until a little over a minute left in the game and did not score for the first 14 minutes of the contest.
Syracuse came out running on all four cylinders and scored four goals in the first nine minutes of the game. A North Carolina timeout at the 21:28 mark of the first half settled the Tar Heels down a bit and several minutes later appeared to get their first goal at the 17:46 mark. However, Marie McCool's free position goal was waved off due to an illegal stick violation, and North Carolina would have to wait a little longer for their initial points of the game.
Midway through the first half, the Tar Heels got a couple of goals to cut the SU lead in half at 4-2. As would happen several several times during the day, the Orange responded to the UNC pressure with a pair of goals of their own at the 9:34 and 8:25 marks, when Hawryschuk and Wallon both scored off of Quimby feeds to open up the lead at 6-2.
North Carolina would fight back with three quick goals of their own between 5:50 and 4:26 and narrowly missed a chance to tie the game when McCool's shot bounced off the cross pipe with 2:50 remaining in the half. The Orange held a narrow 6-5 lead at the half and it seemed like the Tar Heels might be building up momentum.
However, Parker's man-up goal right in front of North Carolina goalie Caylee Waters at the 28:38 mark gave the Orange some breathing room at 7-5. The Tar Heels came right back with a pair of goals, which included an insane behind the back, overhead toss by Sammy Jo Tracy that sailed past Goldstock to tie the game at seven with 23:03 left in the game. For the first time since the opening draw control, the game was knotted, and North Carolina was threatening to take the lead.
And once again, Syracuse responded with a pair of goals to jump back ahead 9-7 with 19:08 left. Following a North Carolina man-down goal that cut the Orange lead to one, SU went on a four goal tear to take a commanding 13-8 lead with 8:37 remaining in the game. The Tar Heels would make things interesting at the end, scoring three goals in the last four minutes of the game, but a Goldstock save with 26 seconds left sealed the win.
This victory will definitely help SU's standing regarding the NCAA Tournament selection in a few weeks. Right now, the Orange's big wins on the season have been against current No. 15 Virginia, No. 16 Northwestern and No. 19 Boston College. No.18 Virginia Tech lost on Saturday to Notre Dame, so it's highly likely that they'll drop a couple of spots in the rankings or drop out entirely. No. 20 Duke lost to Northwestern today as well and at 7-7, they'll be unranked come Monday.
There are some nice wins there, to be sure. But having knocked off the No. 2 team in the country (and it's entirely possible that they'll remain there this week) will help their RPI big time (right now, they're seventh in RPI).
Syracuse still has two important games left: No. 8 Cornell (10-2) at home on Tuesday and at Louisville (10-6, 2-4 ACC) this coming Saturday. The Big Red were upset earlier in the week by Albany, so they may be bumped out of the top 10, but a win here would still be a solid victory for the selection committee. Louisville stands between SU and a No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. With one game remaining, the Cardinals will want to improve their own resume for the NCAA Tournament, so the Orange can expect a tough game.