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On her first shot, UNC forward Erin Matson hit a penalty corner wide to the left of Syracuse goalie Syd Taylor. On Matson’s next two shots, the 2019 NFHCA Division I National Player of the Year missed twice.
With 7:52 left in the fourth quarter of a scoreless game, UNC had its fifth penalty corner of the game. After the ball was settled, Matson feigned a shot to her right as SU midfielder Florine van Boetzelaer lurched to defend. With van Boetzelaer out of the way, Matson fired a shot to the bottom left corner. Taylor dived for the ball but came up short.
The two-time defending national champion, the Tar Heels (5-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast), held on to defeat the Orange (1-3, 1-2) 1-0. This season, SU has not played a game with more than a one goal differential. While UNC had nine shots, Matson’s was the only one on target.
The Orange were limited to six shots, with just two on target. Throughout the game, Syracuse struggled to find quality shots and often allowed UNC to maintain possession without much pressure.
Even when UNC’s Courtnie Williamson went to the sidelines after receiving a green card just under two minutes into the second half, Syracuse decided not to pressure UNC. Instead, the Orange stayed back on defense and allowed the Tar Heels to maintain possession deep in their own territory.
Syracuse’s best opportunity came with just over nine minutes left in the third quarter, with Laura Graziosi controlling the ball over the middle of the field without any Tar Heel defenders nearby. After Graziosi passed into the inner circle to Pleun Lammers, UNC knocked the ball out of play, giving Syracuse its first penalty corner of the game.
Syracuse, which has not scored on a penalty corner all season, continued its struggles after the initial penalty shot was deflected. Graziosi collected the rebound and ran to her right before shooting wide of the goal. Instead of hitting the back of the net as intended, Graziosi’s shot nailed teammate Kirsten Oudshoorn in the midsection.
Besides rare openings in UNC’s defense, Syracuse spent most of the game attempting to prevent UNC’s offense. Minutes before Graziosi’s shot sailed wide and hit Oudshoorn, SU narrowly prevented a Matson goal.
North Carolina forward Meredith Sholder crossed a pass by a couple of Syracuse defenders near SU’s goal. After Taylor dived and missed the ball, Matson began to settle the ball, a wide-open goal in front of her. But rather than finding the back of the net, like she has 57 other times in her career, Matson tangled up her feet as the ball trickled out of bounds.
Eventually, Syracuse’s luck ran out. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, SU senior midfielder Claire Cooke lost possession of the ball near her own inner circle. As she turned around to defend, she crashed into the legs of a UNC player, resulting in a yellow card and a five minute stint on the sidelines.
Seconds later, Cooke was joined by UNC’s Britt Schlatmann, who received the second yellow card of the game. With just over 10 minutes left in the game, both players were forced to sit for half of the remaining time.
The Tar Heels continued to force corner penalties, with 10 players on the field. Eventually, UNC’s second-to-last corner penalty attempt was successful. After holding Matson scoreless for 52 minutes, UNC’s star finally found the back of the net.
Besides one last corner penalty with four minutes remaining – just SU’s third of the game– Syracuse had few opportunities to answer. UNC controlled possession in corners of the field after scoring as Syracuse continued to whack at the ball.
Despite hectic efforts, Syracuse couldn’t regain possession for longer than a few seconds. As Syracuse players wailed sticks at the ball, the clock continued to tick.
In the end, UNC players proved too elusive, as the Tar Heels held on to win their 26th consecutive home game, surpassing Maryland for the longest active streak.
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