North Carolina

UNC to play Syracuse on Sunday for field hockey championship

Freshman Malin Evert scored twice and the Tar Heel defense earned its sixth shutout of the season as top-ranked North Carolina beat No. 6 Duke Friday afternoon in the NCAA Field Hockey Championship semifinals at Michigan’s Phyllis Ocker Field.

The Tar Heels (21-2) will play No. 2 Syracuse, which beat defending national champion Connecticut 3-1 in the first of Friday’s semifinal games, on Sunday at 1 p.m. for the NCAA championship.

Syracuse (20-1) is the top seed in the NCAA tournament field, and UNC is the No. 2 seed. The game will be broadcast live on NCAA.com.

Back in August, North Carolina opened the 2015 season in Ann Arbor with a win over Michigan. On the same field (but in considerably chillier weather) three months later, the Tar Heels played well enough to extend their season one more game.

Coach Karen Shelton emphasizes a quick start by her team, and on Friday the Tar Heels delivered. On the first penalty corner of the contest, just over two minutes into the action, senior Nina Notman sent a hard shot toward the cage, and freshman Malin Evert tipped it in for a 1-0 early lead.

“I’m proud of Malin,” Shelton said of her forward from Bad Schwartau, Germany. “She had two big goals today. The first corner was something we hadn’t done in a while and it was executed beautifully, and that gave us a leg up on the game.”

That’s where the score stood for 41 minutes, but keeping the shutout required some defensive heroics. With seconds to play in the first half, Notman made a defensive save on a Duke penalty corner, sending a Blue Devil shot up and over the cage.

Early in the second half, Duke drew another corner and after the first shot was blocked, junior Kristy Bernatchez made a diving save at the goal line to keep a second shot out of the cage and keep the Blue Devils off the board.

“I thought Kristy Bernatchez, our left back who is kind of an unsung hero, had the game of her career,” Shelton said. “She defended well, attacked well, made some really good decisions and gave us sparks when we needed them.”

Eight minutes into the second half, Evert struck for her second goal of the game and 11th of the season. Senior Casey Di Nardo carried the ball just into the circle and sent it to her left as she was falling to the dark blue Ocker Field turf. Evert redirected Di Nardo’s pass into the goal put UNC up 2-0.

“I’m delighted we got the second one, because it gave us a little more breathing room,” Shelton said.

The Tar Heels held on for the win and another shot at Syracuse, which UNC beat 2-1 in overtime in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship two weeks ago.

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