Four weeks ago, the North Carolina women’s lacrosse team fell behind Boston College by six before roaring back to win the ACC championship game.
On Friday, the Eagles returned the favor, and then some.
After surrendering an early six-goal lead by giving up 10 of 12 goals, the Tar Heels nearly pulled off a late comeback, forcing one overtime, then a second. But BC senior Sam Apuzzo, the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner, ended one of the most dramatic games in NCAA Tournament history, scoring from 5 yards in front with 1:48 left in the second overtime for a 15-14 win over UNC at Johns Hopkins University.
Despite 15 turnovers and a 20-12 disadvantage in draw controls, five goals by sophomore Jamie Ortega and three each by senior Kara Klages and sophomore Scottie Rose Growney helped the Tar Heels (17-4) send a national semifinal to double overtime for the first time since 2008.
“Well, 15-14 overtime thriller on ESPN News? Way to go women’s lacrosse,” UNC coach Jenny Levy said. “Ten thousand people in the stands. We’re trying to grow this game, and we put on a show tonight…. They fought tooth and nail like they have all year. We’re just really disappointed not to have it have gone the other way.
“My team showed lots of grit, toughness. If anyone ever wanted to question the toughness the University of North Carolina lacrosse team plays with, they saw it on display tonight.”
Trailing by two with under 10 minutes to play, Carolina scored three straight in a 5-minute span to regain the lead. Then, after surrendering back-to-back goals, the Tar Heels forced overtime when Ortega scored unassisted with 1:04 left, and backup goalie Elise Hennessey stopped Apuzzo’s point-blank shot as time expired in regulation.
Each team had prime scoring chances in overtime, with Ortega nearly ending it on a shot that sailed wide left by inches and Gianna Bowe on a shot saved by Hennessey, who helped her own cause by intercepting a pair of passes near the goal.
In the end, however, Boston College put the game into the hands of the nation’s top player, and she delivered.
“I thought Emma Trenchard did an amazing job on Apuzzo today,” Levy said. “Great players make great plays in the moments they have to, and that’s what she did.”
Second-seeded Boston College (22-1) advances to Sunday’s noon championship game against the winner of Friday’s late semifinal between top-seeded Maryland and fourth-seeded Northwestern. The loss marked Carolina’s second straight exit in the national semifinals.
“Being on the edge of winning for two years in a row now is such a great feeling, but coming up short is also one of the worst feelings,” Growney said “I think [the future] is very bright,”
Ortega said. “We’ve experienced two losses in the semifinals. It’s a feeling of loss. Obviously it doesn’t feel great, but just looking into next year we have such an experienced group of players. We have the chemistry and connection that has just kept building, and I don’t see us stopping. I think we’ll just keep getting better.”
UNC took control at the outset, winning the opening draw and quickly going on the power play when referees carded defender Christina Walsh for a hit to the head. Moments later, they cashed in when Katie Hoeg, in back of the net, fed Ally Mastoianni driving in front just 54 seconds in.
The Tar Heels extended the lead with a pair of early goals by Ortega off feeds from Katie Hoeg, And when midfielder Gianna Bowe faked out defender Jillian Reilly, drove past her and scored low with 16:03 left in the half, they had built their lead to 6-0.
But the ACC’s highest-scoring offense got rolling. Taking a page from the Tar Heels in the teams’ last matchup, Boston College pulled starting goalie Abbey Ngai in favor of backup Lauren Daly. The move seemed to put a spark the Eagles, who began dominating ground balls and, for the first time all game, creating prime scoring opportunities.
And, more often then not, they cashed in, scoring 10 of the next 12 goals to take their first lead when Kate Taylor dodged from the left wing and scored high to make it 10-9 with 22:12 to play.
“Ngai is a righty, so we kind of knew where to place the shots around her,” Ortega said. “Then Lauren Daly came in and she’s a lefty, so it kind of threw us off for a second. We weren’t really taking our shots, and she was just kind of having easy saves. It changed a lot, but also we should’ve taken more shots.”