ND Women’s Lacrosse
Notre Dame unable to complete comeback against Tar Heels
Alex Carson | Monday, March 30, 2015
A goal from Tar Heels senior midfielder Brittney Coppa with 3:55 left lifted No. 3 North Carolina to a 9-8 victory over No. 17 Notre Dame on Sunday afternoon at Arlotta Stadium.
Coppa’s goal — her second of the game and 19th of the season — kept the Tar Heels (10-2, 3-1 ACC) from losing a game they once led 7-1.
When North Carolina sophomore attack Sydney Holman scored on a free-position shot with 8:30 left in the first half to put her team up by that margin, Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny took a timeout.
What followed was a frantic comeback that eventually saw the Irish (6-5, 1-3 ACC) tie the game in the final six minutes.
“Out of that timeout … we just simply looked at the girls and said, ‘Hey, let’s just have it, let’s just start this game over,’” Halfpenny said. “‘Let’s tighten this up, let’s tighten that up.’”
Irish sophomore midfielder Alex Dalton scored a free-position goal with 6:21 remaining in the first, and the Irish later gained a numbers advantage when North Carolina senior attack Sam McGee received a yellow card and had to briefly sit on the sidelines.
But despite controlling play in the final five minutes of the half, the Irish left empty-handed, heading into the break down 7-2, though they outshot the Tar Heels 18-12 through the first 30 minutes.
Tar Heels sophomore goalkeeper Caylee Waters came up big for her team, saving nine of Notre Dame’s 11 shots on goal in the first half en route to a 13-save performance.
“She really got after it, she’s a strong goalkeeper,” Halfpenny said. “She came into this game making 45 percent of her saves. … We knew that, and we just didn’t throw enough fakes around her. We gave her a little bit of momentum early on and with great goalkeepers, you don’t want to do that.”
But the second half was where the Irish made their run for the game.
Two minutes into the stanza, sophomore midfielder Casey Pearsall started the scoring burst. Pearsall — who also scored Notre Dame’s first goal of the game — took a feed from sophomore attack Cortney Fortunato and beat Waters for a goal.
From there, Fortunato — Notre Dame’s leading scorer — cut North Carolina’s lead to three with 23:58 to play on a free-position goal, before a goal from junior midfielder Brie Custis trimmed the deficit to 7-5 as the second half neared its midway point.
And that’s when the visitors answered to widen the gap again. Just 33 seconds later, Tar Heels senior midfielder Kelly Devlin beat Irish sophomore goalkeeper Liz O’Sullivan to stretch the advantage back to three.
But it did not stay there for long. Sophomore midfielder Katherine Eilers scored in the following minute for the Irish to take the deficit back to two, before Fortunato tallied with 14:29 to play to narrow the gap to 8-7.
After a series of agonizing misses — including a free-position chance from Eilers that hit the crossbar and appeared to cross the line but was ruled not a goal — and a big save from O’Sullivan to keep it a one-score game, Notre Dame got the goal it needed to restore parity to the contest.
Junior attack Rachel Sexton was fouled around the goal area and converted from a free-position opportunity, getting the Irish back on level terms for the first time in 47:11.
“We’re down 7-1 and really, for us, we decided to push this one all the way to the limit,” Halfpenny said. “We felt great about it the whole second half and we know this game could be ours.”
But for the Irish, it was not meant to be. Just 1:13 later, Coppa scored what would prove to be the game-winner for North Carolina.
“Our goal today was to come out and defend our home field, and I think that we did it,” Halfpenny said. “But unfortunately, down the stretch once we got back in it, Carolina made a couple more plays than we did, and unfortunately, that’s devastating. It’s a devastating loss for our program.”
For Notre Dame, it marks another loss against a ranked opponent — the Irish have lost five of six such games on the season — but Halfpenny said she saw a big improvement from earlier losses.
“I think we’re growing up,” Halfpenny said. “ … We found some great chemistry since then, that’s the first thing. With those losses, we learned what we needed out there.”
The Irish next take the field when they travel to Charlottesville, Virginia, to take on the No. 5 Cavaliers on Saturday.