Field hockey

Syracuse locks up No. 2 seed in ACC tournament with win over North Carolina

Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

Syracuse midfielder Leonie Geyer dribbles through the North Carolina defense. The Orange needed just one goal to win yet another home game.

Six different teams failed to score against North Carolina in a 70-minute game during the 2013 regular season.

On Saturday, Syracuse only needed 13 minutes.

Sarah Kerly took advantage of an opening in the corner of the cage and scored the only goal for No. 2 Syracuse (15-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast) in a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the No. 3 Tar Heels (14-4, 3-3) in front of 324 fans at J.S. Coyne Stadium. The win locked up the No. 2-seed for SU in the ACC tournament, which begins Thursday in Newton, Mass. The Orange will face No. 7-seed Boston College.

“It was definitely my most exciting moment of the season,” Kerly said. “It couldn’t have summed up the season any better for me.”

A graduate student, Kerly was honored alongside the other Orange seniors prior to the game. With her mother in attendance, she was already having a memorable day before the opening whistle.

But the goal made it unforgettable.

It came mere seconds after she ran onto the pitch as a substitute for Karlee Farr in the 13th minute. Leonie Geyer had the ball on the Syracuse side of the field when she saw Kerly dash off the bench. Geyer lobbed an outlet pass down the right side and Kerly was able to wrestle it away from a closing Tar Heel.

“I came on at just the right time, fresh legs, and sprinted up into the circle and managed to pick up a ball off a slower defender,” Kerly said. “Yeah, just got really lucky there, I guess, on the substitution.”

Her fourth goal of the season gave Syracuse the lead, but the defense played a crucial role in keeping it.

North Carolina entered the game with the most points per game and best goal differential in the country. However, the Orange defense smothered any attacks the Tar Heels could muster. Jordan Page and Laura Hahnefeldt were excellent in front of the goal, clearing away any dangerous loose balls.

Only three shots actually reached the cage, and Jess Jecko stopped each one.

“Defense wins championships, and the ability to create an attack of the defense is really an important thing,” SU head coach Ange Bradley said. “Our kids played phenomenally today. We studied them hard, and I’m just so happy for our entire group.”

Farr seemingly doubled the Orange’s lead in the 57th minute, but her goal was called back after officials ruled that the ball hit Kerly’s foot before the shot.

Meanwhile, North Carolina was in desperation mode by the time head coach Karen Shelton called a timeout with 10 minutes remaining. Running out of options, she decided to pull goalie Sassi Ammer in favor of an extra attacker.

“I had a feeling that was coming,” Jecko said. “They also started running their forwards higher, but we handled it really well.”

So well, in fact, that the Tar Heels failed to record a shot after that point.

When time expired, cheers erupted from the crowd and the SU bench. Farr, Alyssa Manley and Serra Degnan embraced in celebration as the rest of the Orange scrambled to join them.

Including Kerly, who became the latest hero to emerge for the Orange in a big-game situation.

“We’ve all just come so far since preseason,” Kerly said. “This has proven to us and the coaches that we’re ready.”

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