Syracuse Loses ACC Championship to Unbeaten North Carolina
1st-seeded North Carolina (18-0, 9-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference) took home the 2021 ACC Championship after a 9-4 defeat over 2nd-seeded (14-3, 8-2 in Atlantic Coast Conference).
This is the Tar Heels’ 6th conference championship all-time and their 5th in a row. UNC passes Virginia for second-most ACC Championships, trailing former ACC tennant Maryland (11).
“They are the best team in the country,” head coach Gary Gait mentioned postgame. “We need to play a much better game in order to beat them.”
Syracuse came into this game as one of very few teams in the country that could compete with the Heels. In the regular season, the Orange fell to UNC 17-6, but after that loss, SU was preparing for a rematch.
Through the first 5 minutes at Dorrance Field, the defenses showed out. Graduate Asa Goldstock made two key saves while UNC’s Taylor Moreno made a stopp as well. SU midfielder Emily Ehle opened the scoring at 25:22.
The Heels would go on a 3-0 scoring run in the middle of the first. The dynamic duo of Jamie Ortega and Katie Hoeg got the wheels turning. Hoeg scored to tie up the ballgame before Jamie Ortega scored her ACC-leading 72nd goal of the season. Midfielder Elizabeth Hillman rounded out the 3-0 run.
UNC had their prominent stars step up, and Syracuse was no exception. Freshman phenom Emma Ward scored from the free-position with less than a minute to play.
“Emma’s a tremendous player,” said coach Gait. “She has great vision and great hands.”
Speaking of Emma Ward, coach Gait is impressed with the way she’s stepped up as of late despite all the pressure on her shoulders.
“Asking freshmen to score goals against the best teams in the country is a tall-task. We’re also going to need her in the NCAA Tournament.”
As SU was prepared to take a one-goal deficit into the halftime break, UNC’s Melissa Scocone scored from the free-position with 4 seconds left. This heartbreaking goal gave UNC a 4-2 lead entering the break, the lowest scoring first half for both clubs.
The story of the second-half was poor Syracuse offense. The Orange shot 12 times, five of them on goal, and only coming away with two goals.
“We have a couple players step up and we win this game,” Gary Gait mentioned in his postgame. “We go from scoring 19 against a very good Boston College team to scoring four against North Carolina. Our offense can bury those shots, but they weren’t falling today.
North Carolina outscored SU 5-2 in the second frame to secure the victory. UNC was only held to 9 goals today thanks to a tremendous performance from Asa Goldstock.
“Goldstock gave us a chance to win. Our defense played an amazing game,” said Gary Gait postgame.
Syracuse’s defense caused 12 turnovers and held UNC to it’s only single-digit scoring output of the season. Asa Goldstock made 11 saves on 20 shots, posting a 55% save percentage.
This season, great SU defense has translated to good offense. That wasn’t the story this afternoon. Syracuse was only one for six at the free-position, including midfielder Sierra Cockerille missing a wide open cage inside the final 10 minutes. The Orange also turned the ball over 13 times, one of their worst performances of the year.
In the words of coach Gait, this was a learning experience for his team.
“We have the players, we just need more mental discipline. Our offense will learn from this and I hope they can play with a little more confidence. We are young, so I hope they take advantage of these opportunities.”
The ACC gauntlet is over, for now. The NCAA Tournament is right around the corner. With Northwestern taking home the Big 10 Championship this afternoon, Syracuse will most likely be the 3-seed entering the 29-team bracket. Selection weekend is on May 9th with the First Round beginning on May 14th.
Joe Puccio | firstname.lastname@example.org | @TheRealJoePooch