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Tar Heels move on to Sunday’s 1 p.m. Championship title game
BLACKSBURG, Va. (theACC.com) – Duke put North Carolina to a test worthy of a rivalry game in an Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Lacrosse Championship semifinal, and the top-seeded Tar Heels met the challenge.
Kelly Devlin’s goal with 9:35 remaining gave UNC its first lead of the game, and UNC made it stand up for a 7-6 win Friday evening at Lane Stadium.
The nationally third-ranked Tar Heels (15-2) advanced to face the winner of Friday night’s second semifinal between second-seeded Syracuse and third-seeded Notre Dame. UNC edged the Orange 12-11 at Syracuse on April 16 and defeated the Fighting Irish 14-8 at home on April 3.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” UNC coach Jenny Levy said. “Either way, it’s going to be a really competitive game. There are a lot of things we would like to do better (than on Friday), but a lot of times our opponents challenge us in different ways that hopefully takes us to a new level.”
Levy credited the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (10-8) for doing that on Friday. Duke held a 10-5 edge in draw controls – including seven by freshman Olivia Jenner, who scored a hat trick and keyed the Blue Devils to an early three-goal lead. First-team All-ACC goalkeeper Kelsey Duryea had 12 saves to partially offset UNC’s 21-9 shot advantage.
“Credit their freshman, Jenner, for doing great things all over the field,” Levy said. “Not just on the draw – I thought she was great for them today.”
In contrast to UNC’s 16-8 win over the Blue Devils in last weekend’s regular-season finale, the Tar Heels’ seven goals matched their season-low total and marked their fewest since an 8-7 loss to top-ranked Maryland on Feb. 27.
“Our defense really came ready to battle,” Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said. “I’m so proud of their effort. I think that they really held North Carolina in check … We competed really hard the entire game. Unfortunately, too many mistakes to win a game against a top-five opponent.”
The Blue Devils surprised the Tar Heels with three unanswered goals in the first 3:21 of the match. Jenner put Duke on the board just 13 seconds in. Her freshman classmate, Ella Bonafede, followed with a goal off an assist from Maddy Acton, and then Jenner struck again to put the Blue Devils up 3-0.
“Other than our defense, Liv (Jenner) was the reason we were in the game,” Kimel said. “She was so competitive on the draw, whether she was winning it to herself or putting it in a place where our people on the circle or around the restraining line could win it. I just thought she did an unbelievable job and was super poised for a freshman out there today.”
UNC chipped away with three unanswered goals of its own over the next 16 ½ minutes, finally tying the score at 3-3 on Ela Hazar’s score off an assist from Sammy Jo Tracy with 10:02 left to play in the half.
Duke capitalized on a successful clear attempt with 3:37 to play, maintaining possession until the 13-second mark, when a foul on the Tar Heels set up Kyra Harney’s unassisted goal that put the Blue Devils in front 4-3 at the break.
“I thought the first half was definitely Duke’s half,” Levy said. “They were all over us with their hustle and their heart, and I thought they executed really well.”
Jenner’s goal at the outset of the second half pushed Duke’s lead to 5-3, but the Tar Heels maintained their poise and finally tied the game at 6-6 when Hazar set up Sammy Tracy’s 31st goal of the season with 13 minutes remaining in the game.
Less than four minutes later, Devlin came through with what proved to be the game-winner.
Marie McCool led UNC’s scoring with a pair of goals and one assist. Tar Heel keeper Megan Ward made 10 saves in goal.
“Overall, it was a really tight game, and both teams played tough,” Levy said. “It could have gone either way, and we were lucky to come out on top.”