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With two minutes left in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, North Carolina’s Jamie Ortega charged down the field in transition. Ortega, who scored on the Orange’s defense two minutes earlier, made her way to the top of the 8-meter.
As Ortega traveled deeper into Syracuse’s defense, SU goalie Asa Goldstock followed her every movement. Goldstock shifted her body and positioned her stick in line with Ortega, anticipating a strike.
Ortega rocketed the ball at Goldstock, and it came lower than she expected. But Goldstock deflected Ortega’s attempt away for her 11th save of the afternoon.
“Our defense played an amazing game, they were tremendous today,” head coach Gary Gait said. “Asa Goldstock in goal kept us in it, kept giving us chances to try and crawl back.”
But Goldstock and No. 2 seed Syracuse’s defensive success wasn’t enough, as it lost 9-4 to No. 1 seed North Carolina on Sunday. The Orange (14-3, 8-2 ACC) held the Tar Heels (18-0, 9-0) to a season-low in goals, and Goldstock finished with a 55% save percentage. Syracuse recorded four caused turnovers, and it was 18-of-20 on clears.
When Syracuse and North Carolina faced each other in the regular season, the Orange allowed 17 goals, their most during the regular season. The Orange had tried to play a high-pressure zone defense, with defenders trying to faceguard the Tar Heels attacks as soon as they stepped into the offensive zone. The team got rid of this strategy in Sunday’s game, which is what led to SU’s defensive success, Gait said.
“The last time we were pressing them out. Whenever they got the ball, they would spread us out,” Gait said. “Today, we packed it in.”
Instead, Syracuse elected to stick to its regular zone defense, only pressuring North Carolina when it was inside the 8-meter. This method succeeded early on against the Tar Heels star-studded attack, which features Katie Hoeg and Ortega.
Hoeg and Ortega are North Carolina’s all-time leaders in points and goals, respectively, and they both are in the top three for points per game in the ACC this season. Throughout the game, Goldstock caused trouble for the duo, with four of her 11 saves coming against them.
North Carolina’s offensive set-up operates behind the net, passing around until a cutter is open inside the 8-meter. Midway through the first half, the Tar Heels were able to run this to perfection as Ortega came slashing toward the goal. Hoeg found Ortega at the crease, and she bulleted a shot at Goldstock.
But Goldstock saw Ortega cutting and was already focused on her by the time Ortega striked. Goldstock kept her stick high and punched Ortega’s attempt out of bounds for her fourth save of the afternoon.
Goldstock’s only struggle was with guarding free-position shots, which made up for a third of North Carolina’s scores. On every free-position opportunity, Goldstock anticipated low shots, the exact opposite of what the Tar Heels did. For each score, UNC hit the top corners of the net.
Goldstock wasn’t the only one on SU’s defense who had a successful game. Kerry Defliese, who finished with three caused turnovers, repeatedly made key plays for the Orange inside the 8-meter.
In Syracuse’s zone defense, Defliese fits the role of the backer, moving to wherever the ball is on the field. Against North Carolina, Defliese would spend the majority of UNC’s possession stationed at the edge of the net, containing whoever was behind it.
Throughout the first 10 minutes of the second half, Defliese and the SU defense didn’t allow North Carolina any scores. But off the transition, the Tar Heels set up their offense with a full head of steam.
Hoeg positioned herself behind the net before noticing an open UNC player inside the 8-meter. But Defliese saw the opening as well, and she threw herself into the passing lane. Hoeg tried to pass, and with her stick raised above her head, Defliese deflected the ball to the ground.
Goldstock picked up Defliese’s deflection, and the Orange moved in transition. Emma Ward delivered a pass out to Emma Tyrrell, who twisted her stick and shoveled an attempt without looking at the goal.
Tyrrell’s strike found the back of the net, but that was one of the only times Syracuse was able to turn defense into offense. The Orange finished with 16 turnovers in the game.
“(If) we have a couple players step up on the offensive end, we’re in that game,” Gait said.
The post Syracuse holds North Carolina to season-low 9 goals in ACC title loss appeared first on The Daily Orange.