Women's Lacrosse

No. 2 seed Syracuse falters in 2nd half to No. 1 North Carolina in ACC title game

Cody Hendrix | Staff Photographer

The Orange did not score in the final 18:38.

RICHMOND, Va. — As North Carolina players mingled around midfield, celebrating their second consecutive conference title, Gary Gait sat alone on the Syracuse bench. He clenched in his right hand a rolled-up statistics sheet, which UNC senior attack Molly Hendrick stuffed to the tune of seven goals and two assists, watching the Tar Heels giggle, pose for photographs and put on their championship hats and T-shirts.

Over the previous 40 minutes, the Tar Heels dug out of a 5-0 Syracuse run to hang nine unanswered goals and hold SU to not a single score over the last 18:38 of game time. That stretch, which lifted No. 1 seed UNC to an 18-11 victory Sunday afternoon over No. 2 SU in the ACC title game, was punctuated by Hendrick’s somersault on her seventh goal of the day. It took the life from Syracuse, as the Tar Heels mobbed their leader who put to rest SU’s attempt at a second-half comeback.

Top-seeded North Carolina (16-2, 6-1 Atlantic Coast) used that second-half run to glide past No. 2 seed Syracuse (15-6, 5-2) at Sports Backers Stadium near the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. The Orange jetted out to an early lead, 4-0, only to go down one at the half. UNC commanded the draw control game 22 to nine, giving its eighth-ranked offense time to hang 18 goals — including six in a three-minute, 19-second spurt — on SU and claim its second consecutive ACC title.

The Tar Heels scored 35 goals in the first two games of the tournament, and that same offense found holes in SU’s defense to coast by in the final minutes.

“We played so much defense in the second half,” Gait said. “It was unbelievable. You just get tired. On the draw, we weren’t running with them, we weren’t staying in the middle competing for ground balls. You’re going to be a step behind when you play almost a full half of defense.”

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Cody Hendrix | Staff Photographer

Fourteen days ago in Chapel Hill, SU went up 4-0 early and handed UNC its only loss in its past 17 regular-season ACC contests. Freshman attack Emily Hawryschuk scored four times to lead SU past the Tar Heels, the team’s only loss since Feb. 25.

On Friday, junior attack Riley Donahue tied a career-high four goals to lead SU past Virginia in the semifinal. It set up Sunday’s showdown on a neutral site to decide the ACC’s automatic invite to the NCAA tournament, in what had shaped up to be a thriller: UNC won last year in overtime and Syracuse won in overtime in 2015.

The third consecutive ACC final meeting was far from that. UNC took 18 shots and won nine draw controls in the first half alone. The nation’s second-best team in draw controls (16.56 per game), North Carolina, used possession time to fuel its 7-2 run to end the half after SU went up 4-0.

“We got the unlucky end of the stick a couple of times,” said SU senior attack Devon Parker, who had two goals and two assists. “That gave them momentum going forward.”

The key UNC adjustment came at the break. North Carolina had open cutters in the first half, though the timing of their cuts was off. Once Tar Heels head coach Jenny Levy told her players to either cut earlier to the middle or flash later to the elbows, they penetrated the SU defense. Suddenly, the whole zone opened.

North Carolina spaced more. Players drew out from behind the goal because SU freshman goalie Asa Goldstock jumped out of the cage several times in the first half to fend off UNC shots near the crease. When the Tar Heels drew out from behind the net and timed its cuts better, a series of unassisted goals ensued.

Levy, who called the first half “a struggle all of the way through,” made the proper switches that freed up the once clogged up middle of the offensive zone.

“The adjustments we made were really effective and freed our kids up,” Levy said. “It was just a matter of time for them to get in sync with one another, which gave us the momentum to break open the game … We kept in the back of our mind: one-goal game, one-goal game. The energy never wavered.”

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Cody Hendrix | Staff Photographer

By halftime, Hendrick had four goals. She did not relent after the break. She maneuvered her way into traffic near the cage to lead a Tar Heels barrage that answered a 5-0 Orange run early in the second.

Barely two minutes had elapsed into the second frame before UNC senior attack Carly Reed glided around the cage, paused and scored. Back-to-back Reed goals opened the second half, putting SU down three.

Syracuse erased deficits in both the ACC quarterfinal against Virginia Tech and in the semifinal against Virginia to get to Sunday. It believed it could do it again. Early in the second, attacks Donahue and Parker chipped in to make it a game again. When SU took a two-goal lead early in the second half, a contingent of Orange fans stood to their feet and SU players danced on the sidelines.

That was all Syracuse had left.

“It was a game of runs,” Gait said. “We just didn’t have an answer for the last one.”

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