Sophomore Alex Dalton earned her second IWLCA all-region honor today.

No. 2 North Carolina Downs Irish in ACC Semifinals

April 24, 2015

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Rachel Sexton scored a pair of goals for the No. 11 Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team but No. 2 North Carolina played like the conference’s top dog that it was during the regular season and rolled to an 18-4 win over the Irish on Friday afternoon in an ACC championship semifinal at Virginia’s Klöckner Stadium.

Most major statistical in the game were generally even, but steady play by Caylee Waters in the Tar Heel net helped tip the scales overwhelmingly in her team’s favor. Waters stopped 13 of Notre Dame’s 17 shots on goal while a combination of Liz O’Sullivan and Jennifer Blum halted just four of North Carolina’s 22 shots on goal.

Notre Dame led ground balls, 16-11. Draw controls were even at 12-12 and turnovers were virtually even with the Irish committing 11 to the Tar Heels, 10. Those generally-crucial indicators were not as useful on Friday due to the precision of North Carolina’s shooting.

“This tournament shows how important every single (regular season) ACC game is,” Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “If we had played our selves away from the number one team in the bracket, maybe it is a different story for Notre Dame. Carolina is a veteran team at the offensive end, and there was a discrepancy there between us today.

“It is all part of the process for us. This is our second year and in ACC and we have showed great improvement this year. I am very, very proud of my club. We took another step forward in the growth of our program this weekend, beating Virginia yesterday. We won our first ACC tournament game and got a taste of winning a big game. Today was unfortunate.”

While there has been much for the Irish to be proud of over a 10-8 season with more chances to shine upcoming in the NCAA tournament, Friday’s game was never significantly in doubt.

The teams traded goals in the opening two minutes as Maggie Bill scored 1:26 into the contest for UNC but Sexton answered for the Irish just 28 seconds later when she converted off of a Katherine Eilers feed. North Carolina scored each of the game’s next nine goals to take a 10-1 lead before Sexton snapped the run with an unassisted goal with 6:03 left to play in the first half. Brie Custis set up Stephanie Toy for a Notre Dame goal with 2:44 left in the frame, but the Irish headed to the locker room at halftime trailing, 13-3.

The second half saw more of the same on the scoreboard as North Carolina scored each of the first five goals of the half before freshman Abi Cullinan scored her second collegiate goal with 48 seconds left to play, accounting for the 18-4 final score.

All-America defender Barbara Sullivan did fill up her stat line as usual with four draw controls, two ground balls and a pair of caused turnovers. Cortney Fortunato also controlled four draws, but was held goalless for the second game in a row. Caitlin Gargan and Leah Gallagher caused a pair of Tar Heel turnovers.

Reflecting the efficiency of North Carolina on Friday, Notre Dame caused all 10 Tar Heel turnovers with North Carolina not handing the ball over unforced even once. UNC has only been forced into 10 or more turnovers three times this year, twice coming against the Irish as, in addition to today’s 10, Notre Dame forced 14 of North Carolina’s turnovers in a vastly more competitive 9-8 Tar Heel win on March 29.

The Irish will learn their NCAA tournament fate on Sunday, May 3 at 9 p.m. EDT. Notre Dame expects to be selected for the tournament for the school-record fourth consecutive year. The first round of play begins on May 9 on eight campus sites that will be announced on May 3 along with the 26-team field.