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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Tar Heels rout Irish in ACC semifinal

| Monday, April 27, 2015

In the ACC semifinals Friday, No. 14 Notre Dame did not come close to unseating No. 2 North Carolina in its bid for the ACC title, falling 18-4 at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Irish (10-8, 3-4 ACC) were seeded fifth in the ACC tournament and pulled off a 7-6 upset of fourth-seeded Virginia on Thursday, the second time this month Notre Dame took down the Cavaliers on their home turf.

They were unable to replicate their Klockner Stadium success against the top-seeded Tar Heels, however, as North Carolina (15-3, 6-1) never looked back after a 9-0 run in the first half.

“I think they had a similar game plan to us,” Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “It was a game of runs and momentum, which they dominated. It was disappointing that we couldn’t recover.”

Two goals by junior attack Rachel Sexton and one by junior midfielder Stephanie Toy were all the Irish could manage in the first half, and freshman attack Abi Cullinan tacked one on in the game’s final minute to make the final score 18-4.

Sophomore attack Cortney Fortunato, by far the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, had no points for the second game in a row. The absence of injured sophomore midfielder Casey Pearsall also hurt the team’s offense.

The margin of defeat tied for the largest Notre Dame suffered in the regular season, with the 14-point differential matching that of a 17-3 loss to Duke on March 1. The Irish had no double-digit losses since then until Friday’s matchup.

“Losing by 14 is not something that our program is accustomed to. It’s not something that we plan for,” Halfpenny said. “It’s not something that we’re going to accept. It happened, but we’re going to move forward, and we have to focus on the two areas of game that were not there: low shooting percentage and the motion offense.”

The most lopsided statistic of the day was shooting accuracy; the Irish were 4-of-20 while the Tar Heels went 18-of-26.

North Carolina sophomore goalkeeper Caylee Waters recorded 13 saves. Notre Dame sophomore Liz O’Sullivan had one before being relieved by sophomore Jennifer Blum, who had three.

Halfpenny said the team’s shooting failures were the result of minimal offensive movement.

“Our focus is going to be on getting back to moving off ball the way that we were at points this season,” Halfpenny said. “I think we got caught in holding space too much in game after game after game where we saw zone defenses. Coming up against Carolina, a team that plays outstanding high-pressure 1-v-1 defense but can also play a disciplined shell, you’ve got to move.”

Though they struggled to find the back of the net, the Irish had just six fewer shots than North Carolina, which Halfpenny said she saw as a good sign.

“The huge positive is that we still did generate 20 shots on an off day, but the downside is there were just too many low-percentage shots,” Halfpenny said. “We have to get back to doing what we do, and I have no doubt in my mind that our team will be better next time out. The beauty is that we were still taking shots — earlier in the season when we were down, we stopped shooting. We’re going to keep on attacking our improvement there.”

Outside of scoring success, the stat sheet did not reflect North Carolina’s rout of Notre Dame. The Irish committed just one extra turnover, tied the Tar Heels in draw controls and picked up five more ground balls than North Carolina did.

North Carolina, who beat Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals before taking down Notre Dame, played sixth-seeded Syracuse on Sunday in the ACC championship and lost 9-8 in double overtime.

The Irish now look toward the NCAA tournament, which begins May 8.

“[We’re focused on] coming back here and recovering from what was a huge push in the month of April,” Halfpenny said. “We had lots of games and obviously important games that add a lot of magnitude to our resume to bring forth to the NCAA committee.

“We get to focus on ourselves for an entire week, which is a luxury not a lot of teams have going into the NCAAs.”

Notre Dame expects to have a berth in the NCAA tournament, and will find out its seeding in the selection show next Sunday at 9 p.m.

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About Renee Griffin

Notre Dame senior, formerly of Farley Hall. Originally from Lake Zurich, IL, majoring in American Studies with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. Enjoys talkin' about practice.

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