Sports, Top Story, Fall, Field Hockey

BC Can’t Lock Down Explosive UNC Attack, Falls in Final Four

All season long, defense has been Boston College field hockey’s calling card. The Eagles entered a national semifinal against No. 1 North Carolina with nine shutouts—good for third-most in the country—and just seven goals allowed in six ACC games.

If defense is BC’s strength, though, then the Tar Heels are the Eagles’ kryptonite. In the past two months, only UNC has managed to score more than one goal against BC, and it did so twice, netting three times in both in a regular-season matchup in Chapel Hill, and in the ACC Championship on the Eagles’ home field in Newton.

But in the teams’ third matchup of the season—now on the sport’s biggest stage—the Tar Heels one-upped both of those performances. UNC exploded for four goals in the first half alone, coming back from a one-goal deficit twice. Then the Tar Heels locked down on defense, holding the Eagles scoreless until the result was beyond doubt and denying BC its first-ever appearance in the national championship by beating it, 6-3, in the Final Four. 

Early in the game, the Eagles (15-8, 4-2 Atlantic Coast) came out with a high-energy press, hoping to stop UNC’s signature quick passing and building from the back. Just under a minute in, it worked like a charm. BC forced an early turnover in the UNC (22-0, 6-0) half, and Jaime Natale moved the ball deep inside the Tar Heels circle before winning a penalty corner near the right end line. 

Off the penalty corner insertion, Sky Caron slid the ball over to freshman Margo Carlin, who was alone on the left side of the circle. Carlin, who finished the season with a team-high 20 goals, made no mistake, hitting a shot over Tar Heels goaltender Amanda Hendry high into the net to give the Eagles an early lead. 

Faced with an early deficit, UNC began to utilize long passes, both on the ground and through the air, to try to get in behind the BC defense. It proved effective almost immediately. From inside her own half, Erin Matson—who led the country in both goals and assists per game during the regular season—slipped a long hit through multiple Eagles defenders, giving the Tar Heels a 3-on-2 opportunity in the BC circle. Catherine Hayden dribbled in on goal before pushing a pass across goal to an open Riley Fulmer, who fired home past an out-of-position Sarah Dwyer to knot the score at one with 8:11 played in the quarter. 

It wasn’t until the second quarter, however, that UNC’s attack really began firing on all cylinders. The Eagles regained the lead first, thanks almost entirely to Carlin. The freshman dribbled into the right side of the BC circle—where the Eagles created most of their best attacks—and opted to shoot, getting Hendry to commit low before firing a high shot into the back of the cage in a near carbon copy of her first goal. 

The Tar Heels’ response to Carlin’s second score proved decisive, though. Just 85 seconds later, UNC won its first penalty corner of the game after Matson’s attempted centering pass deflected off a BC foot. The insertion went straight to Matson, and the sophomore fired an absolute laser into the bottom right corner to tie the game. 

The Tar Heels weren’t done there. Once again, a long pass over caught the Eagles’ back line out and created a numbers advantage for UNC in the BC circle. This time, however, it was Marissa Creatore—who netted two goals in the ACC Championship—who capitalized, finishing off UNC’s excellent passing with the go-ahead goal just four and a half minutes into the second quarter. 

Five minutes later, the Tar Heels had a two-score lead. The Eagles turned the ball over on the top of their circle, and the ball trickled out to Megan Duvernois, who slapped a shot that deflected off Matson past a helpless Dwyer. In the blink of an eye, UNC had grabbed a 4-2 lead. 

Carlin had one opportunity off a penalty corner just before the break to narrow the deficit, but Madison Orobono blocked her attempt, and halftime arrived with BC trailing by a pair of scores. BC desperately needed the break to regroup and make some defensive adjustments, but unfortunately, out of the break, the Tar Heels just kept rolling. 

Midfielder Feline Guenther worked down the right end line and found Matson with a swarm of Eagles defenders around her. Undeterred, the sophomore turned and rolled a shot under Dwyer’s right leg to give UNC a 5-2 advantage. 

BC simply had neither the firepower nor the energy to keep up. The Tar Heels, who conceded more than two goals just one time in the regular season—limited the Eagles to zero shots in the third quarter. Then, Matson added her fourth goal of the game—and the cherry on top for UNC—with 4:32 to play. 

Brigid Wood—playing in her final game for the Eagles—grabbed a consolation goal off BC’s fourth and final penalty corner with 2:15 left, but it was too little, too late, as the Tar Heels ran the clock down and celebrated their 45th straight win. 

The defeat ends the Eagles’ historic season in disappointing fashion. This season marked BC’s first appearances in both the Final Four and the ACC Championship game, but both times the Eagles ran into the UNC buzzsaw. The Tar Heels are the only team to beat BC in the past two months—a span of 14 games—though they ensured twice that the Eagles’ feel-good campaign ended trophyless. 

Nevertheless, head coach Kelly Doton and BC should feel proud about their run, which featured a prolific first year from Carlin and a streak of eight shutouts in 11 games, which included the end of the regular season and the ACC Tournament. What’s more, though, the Eagles will have to replace Dwyer, Kate Pianko, and Emily Buttinger—three key pieces of its outstanding defensive core—the Eagles’ entire attack save for Wood will return, leaving BC with a bright future and optimism moving forward.

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Senior Staff

November 22, 2019