It was a game of runs and in the end, it was the Tar Heels who had the biggest one. North Carolina (16-2) won the last 10 draws and scored nine unanswered goals as the Tar Heels raced past Syracuse 18-11 to claim the ACC Women’s Lacrosse Tournament Championship and the automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament. The Orange (15-6) will have to wait until the Selection Sunday to see if they will capture a spot among the eight seeds.
It was the 'Cuse who looked like they might run away with this early on, scoring the first four goals of the game. The Orange drew first blood when Riley Donahue snuck one in low 90 seconds in. Over the next 10 minutes, Neena Merola, Mary Rahal and Donahue again would extend the Syracuse lead to 4-0 about 12 minutes into the contest.
North Carolina was held scoreless until the 16:13 mark when Molly Hendrick (who would finish with seven of 18 Carolina's goals) put the Tar Heels on the board. They would follow that up with a three goal spurt in about 90 seconds to tie the game at 4 with 10:23 left in the half.
The Orange would finally break a 12-minute scoring drought when Alie Jimerson got a feed from Devon Parker right at the doorstep of the goal and put it away to give SU the lead again. Emily Hawryschuk would rocket a free position shot two minutes later and the Orange were on top 6-4 four minutes before halftime.
It was the Tar Heels' turn to make a run. North Carolina finished the half with three straight goals to take a 7-6 lead into the locker room. That streak continued into the second half as they added two more in the first four minutes to expand the lead to 9-6.
Syracuse still had some juice left, scoring five goals in as many minutes. Hawryschuk charged in to score the first goal at the 23:26 mark. Less than a minute later, Devon Parker found the net with a point blank shot. She followed that up by finding a seam in the Tar Heel defense to bounce one in and the game was tied with 20 minutes left. Rahal gave the Orange the lead just 20 seconds later with a free position shot. Natalie Wallon finished the scoring on the day at the 18:38 mark off of a Jimerson feed.
And then North Carolina's experience started to show with their seniors taking over. They stopped the Orange surge by simply denying them the ability to score. The Tar Heels would win the final 10 draws and score eight goals between the 16:12 and 7:08 marks to turn an 11-9 Syracuse advantage into a very comfortable 17-11 North Carolina lead. How dominant this was could be shown in the time of possession. Between the two times above, Orange players had the ball a mere 17 seconds on two possessions and both of those were on the defensive end. The Tar Heels would add one more goal in those final minutes to get the 18-11 victory.
Parker led the SU offense with two goals and two assists. Donahue had two goals and an assist. Rahal and Hawryschuk had two goals each, Jimerson added a goal and an assist, Merola and Wallon had a goal each and Nicole Levy had an assist.
Defensively, Asa Goldstock had six saves against 18 goals plus two caused turnovers and three ground balls. Ella Hogan had two caused turnovers and four ground balls.
Syracuse had another decent day at the free position, going 4-7 on the day and finishing the tournament at 13-21. The Orange were getting only 36.5% of these going into the tournament, so there was definitely a huge improvement in that department.
North Carolina outshot SU 38-26 on the game and owned the draw circle with a 22-9 advantage, 10 of those coming in the last 15 minutes of the game.
It was a very physical contest as evidenced by the large amount of yellow cards. SU had six, while the Tar Heels had five.
With 17 minutes left, the Orange led 11-9 and had the momentum. Then the North Carolina seniors took over, scoring seven of the nine goals in the final run. The Syracuse offense watched helplessly as the Tar Heels won draw after draw and denied them any opportunity to get a possession, much less get a shot off in a nine minute stretch of the game.
There were two glaring issues for Syracuse in this game. One was the general inability get a ground ball off the draw, which is a major reason why North Carolina won so many of them in this game. This was especially the case at the end of the game with the 10 straight draw controls.
The second was something that has been a recurring problem for the Orange for most of the year in the form of unforced errant passes. There were too many cases of players either misfiring the pass and being way off the mark, dropping the pass or even throwing it in the vicinity of an opposing player. It hurt Syracuse in this game and killed momentum a number of times because it often led to an easy turnover for the Tar Heels to capitalize on.
In spite of the outcome, the Orange will definitely be in the NCAAs in a couple of weeks and they still have a decent chance of getting one of the top eight seeds. I will get into this later in the week with an NCAA Tournament special article and how everything will relate to SU. For now, they have a much needed two weeks rest until they play again.