North Carolina Punches Ticket to Women's College Cup
Columbia, S.C. (GoHeels.com) - Freshman Madison Schultz scored her fifth game-winning goal in the past eight games and redshirt senior Lindsey Harris made eight saves, including one on a penalty kick, to lift sixth-ranked North Carolina past third-ranked South Carolina in the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship quarterfinals Friday night before 2,507 fans at Eugene E. Stone, III, Stadium.
With the victory the Tar Heels advance to the NCAA semifinals next Friday at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif. UNC will play the winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal match between Duke and West Virginia. The Tar Heels improved to 17-3-4 on the season with the victory and South Carolina lost for only the second time in 2016, finishing its season at 21-2-1.
The game was virtually dead even statistically. USC had a slight 16-14 edge in overall shots, including a 9-7 advantage in shots on goal. UNC had six corner kicks to five for the Gamecocks. USC was whistled for eight fouls and the Tar Heels for seven.
Each team made one defender save and the most important statistic in the end was goalkeeper saves as Lindsey Harris made eight for the Tar Heels and Mika Krzeczowski notched five for the Gamecocks.
At times the game resembled a ping pong machine as action moved from end to end at a frenetic pace with the ball flying around the pitch. In the first half alone there were 17 combined shots between the two sides and 10 saves.
After Carolina took the initial two shots of the match, South Carolina took control on its end for a space of about five minutes in which it created several good scoring chances. Harris had to corral a ball in the 12th minute that almost crossed the line but she held the ball high and secured it from becoming the opening goal of the contest. Then in the 14th minute, after a USC corner kick, Savannah McCaskill had a header saved off the line by Tar Heel defender Julia Ashley. The ball fell immediarely to Kaleigh Kurtz whose back heel effort was smothered by Harris.
At 19:13, Madison Schultz, UNC’s super sub, came on and she delivered just 1:55 later with the game-winning goal. After chesting down a ball in the left side of the penalty area, Schultz and Annie Kingman exchanged passes. Schultz gathered in the return ball from Kingman and just inside the penalty area on the left side she floated a ball over the South Carolina keeper and into the upper right 90 from 18 yards out. The Gamecocks argued for a hand ball call against Schultz on her initial trapping of the ball but to no avail.
The freshman striker from Edmonds, Wash., has been on fire of late. She had not scored a goal until the regular-season finale against Florida State when her first tally of the year gave UNC a 1-0 win, boosting its RPI in the process. Since then, she has scored four more times, giving her five game-winning goals in the past eight games – against Florida State, Virginia in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals and Liberty, Kansas and South Carolina in the NCAA first round, NCAA second round and NCAA quarterfinals, respectively.
UNC almost made it 2-0 at the 30:37 mark but Hanna Gardner’s header off a corner kick by Dorian Bailey was denied by a defender save from USC. Later in the half, South Carolina’s Chelsea Drennan sent a long shot from 35 yards out from the left side of the pitch only to see it rock the cross bar and post simultaneously, just missing the upper right 90.
Things were just as crazy in the second half with both teams substituting in large numbers to keep fresh legs on the field. Thirteen more shots were taken and Harris recorded three more saves. None was bigger than the stop on a penalty kick by Sophie Groff at the 54:14 mark. The assistant referee had awarded the Gamecocks a penalty kick after ruling that Ashley had taken down McCaskill in the penalty area after she momentarily got behind the UNC defense on a through ball. Groff’s shot was struck low and hard to the left side of the frame but Harris extended as far as she could and tipped it over the end line for a corner kick. With that save she tied the University record for saves in a season.
She broke it with a save on a shot by Chelsea Drennan at 66:19 and then added one for good measure by saving the last USC shot of the match from Tatumn Milazzo with 39 seconds to play. Harris now has 91 saves on the season, breaking the previous school record of 89 set by Molly Current in 1980, UNC’s second varsity season.
UNC’s best chance to score in the second half came at the 76-minute mark when Madison Schultz got a through ball from Bridgette Andrzejewski and was off to the races. But her shot from the top of the box was saved by Krzeczowski, keeping the game at a one-goal margin.
Carolina is in the Final Four for the first time since 2012 and just the second time since 2009. UNC was also a No. 2 tournament seed in 2012 on its last trip to the semifinals. The Tar Heels advanced that year with a 2-1 double overtime road win over BYU in the quarterfinals at Provo, Utah. UNC has now played two true road games in NCAA quarterfinal games and in both cases knocked off tournament No. 1 seeds.
In 35 NCAA Tournaments, UNC has now advanced to the semifinals for the 27th time. Carolina is now 125-11-3 all-time in NCAA Tournament games, a winning percentage of 91 percent.
Two Tar Heels will be playing in their second Final Four. Redshirt senior Hanna Gardner was a starting defender on the 2012 team and redshirt senior Lindsey Harris was a backup goalkeeper on the 2012 squad when she was taking her redshirt year.
In finding their way to San Jose, this particular Tar Heel team has taken an unusual route. In back-to-back games on September 11 and September 15 the Tar Heels were shutout by USC 3-0 and NC State 1-0. But the Tar Heels have regrouped since then and against arguably the nation’s most difficult schedule has gone 12-1-3 in its last 16 contests and earned a national semifinals berth.