When Boston College field hockey visited No. 1 North Carolina on Oct. 25, the Eagles lost a heartbreaker, thanks to the stick of Yentl Leemans. With the score knotted at 2-2 and just two minutes left in regulation, the Tar Heels earned a penalty corner, and Leemans played a give-and-go with Romea Riccardo into the middle of the circle before slotting it home for a game-winner.
Unfortunately for BC, the story was the same two weeks later in the ACC Championship. With the two teams tied at 1-1 in the fourth quarter on Sunday, UNC won a penalty corner. After the insertion, Erin Matson slid the ball to Leemans, and the senior found the back of the net off a high shot that just snuck inside the left post to give the Tar Heels the lead with 11 minutes to play. From there, UNC held on, running out the clock to beat the Eagles, 3-1, and ensure that BC came up frustratingly short of its first-ever ACC Championship in front of a standing-room only crowd in Newton.
“I think it’s awesome,” Eagles head coach Kelly Doton said of the packed house. “I think a lot of the campus and the community has embraced the team over the last couple days. [Our players] love playing in front of those crowds.”
After a slow start for both teams, BC earned the first penalty corner of the game and Fusine Govaert got a shot off, only to be denied by Tar Heels goaltender Amanda Hendry, who entered the game with a .837 save percentage—tops in the ACC.
The Eagles paid for that missed opportunity just three minutes down the road. Kate Pianko was given a yellow card, and, seconds later, UNC earned a penalty corner of its own. Off the insertion, the ball was laid off to Matson. The country’s leader in goals and assists per game slammed a shot toward the net, but a stretching Sky Caron got her stick on it. The problem was, the deflection took the ball right into the path of Marissa Creatore, who was all alone at the right post. Presented with the simplest of chances, the senior tapped the ball home to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead.
The Eagles had multiple chances to add to their lead before the break, with a penalty corner just before the end of the first period, ending in another save from Hendry, and two more penalty corners in the second period. A tough UNC defense, however—which conceded just 18 goals all season—was up to the task, blocking a shot from Govaert and intercepting an attempted pass toward the end line on the other. At the break, despite outshooting the Tar Heels, 4-3, the Eagles still trailed by a goal.
The third quarter didn’t start in ideal fashion for BC either. Halfway through the period, Caron was assessed a yellow card, gifting the Tar Heels a man advantage. Dwyer moved to her right to deny Matson with a big save, though, and the Eagles were able to weather the storm. And just after Caron made her way back onto the field, BC struck for an equalizing goal.
Govaert carried the ball down the right sideline and hit a pass toward goal. The ball was deflected by a UNC player, but Elizabeth Warner picked it back up after a quick restart and got off a centering pass of her own. This time, however, the ball found the stick of Jaime Natale, and the senior attacker—playing in her final game at home—fired a rolling drive that snuck under Hendry’s leg pads to tie the game at one and set up a dramatic final period.
But the fourth quarter belonged to UNC. Just 17 seconds into the quarter, Warner was handed a yellow card and 10-minute penalty for a physical clash along the sideline. Capitalizing on the extra player, Leemans struck for the go-ahead goal.
The Eagles threw players forward in an effort to find a late equalizing score, but instead it was the Tar Heels and Creatore who extended their lead. Under pressure from two defenders, Emily Buttinger turned upfield but lost the ball to Creatore. With BC’s defense out of position, Creatore dribbled down into the low circle before slotting home to the far post and pushing UNC’s lead to 3-1.
BC thought it had a goal back, as Govaert rocketed home a high shot off a penalty corner to reduce the deficit to 3-2, but it was disallowed for her stick being too high. All told, the Eagles finished the day 0-for-5 on penalty corners, while the Tar Heels scored on two of theirs.
“On a couple of [penalty corners], our tippers weren’t in positions where they should have been,” Doton remarked of BC’s inability to convert on those penalties. “But it’s not even about the first execution, it’s about getting those rebounds as well. Penalty corners are hard on both ends.”
The rest of the way, UNC was able to run out the clock by holding the ball, even after the Eagles pulled Dwyer with 2:24 to play.
The loss is heartbreaking for BC, which was making its first-ever appearance in the ACC Championship. Nevertheless, it certainly represents a step forward for the Eagles, who had managed just one win all-time in the ACC Tournament before winning two games just in 2019.
“I told them at the end of the game that the ACC Championship is seven really hard teams and to make it to the final is an accomplishment in and of itself,” Doton said after the game.
Likewise, BC is almost certainly set to break a two-year NCAA Tournament drought when the field is announced Sunday night.
“I’m just happy for the hard work they’ve put in,” Doton said of the accomplishment. “They’ve really bought in to where we’re trying to go culturally with the program.
I told them the season’s not over,” she added. “We wanted to win the ACC, but now we have the NCAAs to look forward to.”
The Eagles—solid defense and all—should be looking forward to the tournament. As a close loss to the best team in the country should indicate, they have the talent to make a run in what’s sure to be a loaded 18-team field.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Senior Staff