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UNC women’s soccer advances to national championship game

Sunday will mark the Heels’ 25th trip the title game.

NCAA Soccer: DI Women’s College Cup Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

For the 25th time in program history, the North Carolina women’s soccer team will play for the NCAA National Championship. It took 108 minutes and two overtime periods before a Golden Goal downed the Georgetown Hoyas, paving the way for a rematch of this season’s ACC Tournament Championship match with Florida State. They have won 21 titles in the previous 24 trips to the final game.

It was a frustrating evening for the Heels, who dominated possession, total shots (20-9), shots on goal (8-1), and earned 15 corner kicks to 6 for the Hoyas. After a back and forth first period, North Carolina was a step ahead of the Hoyas and gained control of the match, shutting down passing lanes, winning 50/50 balls, and consistently chasing down any movement that even looked like a potential breakaway. As a result, UNC goalkeepers Samantha Leshank was only forced to make one save. Georgetown didn’t earn any corner kicks after the 27th minute.

In maintaining possession, the Heels kept the Hoyas under constant pressure. Time and time again, the reached the edge of the Georgetown box by using speed down the flanks, attacking the middle of the field, or using a short, quick passing game to keep the ball moving through and around the Hoya defense. The pressure forced both Hoya keepers, All-American Arielle Schechtman and substitute Lauren Gallagher, to combine for six saves which only added to UNC’s frustration.

That aggressive mindset almost paid off in the 85th minute when the Heels earned a questionable penalty kick after getting tripped up in the top of corner of the box. However, UNC’s own All-America selectee Taylor Otto’s subsequent penalty attempt was blocked by Gallagher who hardly had to move as she easily punched the ball over the crossbar.

It was Gallagher’s first save of the night after coming on in emergency relief just two minutes prior. Schechtman, the Hoyas’ starting goalkeeper, was forced to exit the game in the 83rd minute after injuring her knee on a non-contact landing after jumping to gain control of a loose ball on the end line. That save seemed to rejuvenate Georgetown, who put in a last gasp attempt in the final five minutes to find what would have been the game-winning goal. North Carolina held off the late charge and multiple Georgetown opportunities in the box. The result was a 0-0 tie at the end of regulation.

The Heels regained their composure and proceeded to dominate both overtime periods. Eight of the Heels’ 20 shot attempts were taken in overtime, where they also racked up three of their 15 corner kick attempts. Georgetown, who appeared to be playing for the chance to win on penalty kicks, did not take a single shot in overtime.

However, the Heels continued to struggle converting inside the box. At one point, midfielder Dorian Bailey forced Gallagher to make a lunging save, punching the ball directly to forward Madison Schultz. Getting to the ball in stride, Schultz fired a shot directly into what appeared to be an open net. The opening quickly closed as Hoya defender Meaghan Nally provided textbook defense and slid across the end line and headed the ball out of bounds.

Finally, in the 108th minute, North Carolina cashed in on a counterattack that ran the length of the pitch. Emily Fox started the run before finding UNC’s All-America defender Julia Ashley in the middle of the field. Ashely then executed two textbook give and gos with midfielders and Brianna Pinto and Rachael Dowart. The quick passing prevented the Georgetown defenders from getting set as they were forced back on their heels (no pun intended).

Ashley eventually found herself in the middle the box with a clean look on goal following the return pass from Dowart. She pushed the ball to the right of Gallagher into the back of the net ensuring UNC would not see a second straight game head to penalty kicks. Check out the winning goal in the following tweet.

North Carolina will play for their 22nd NCAA title on Sunday at 1:00 pm against Florida State on ESPNU. The Tar Heels will be looking for revenge after the Seminoles defeated them in the ACC Tournament Championship last month, 3-2. Carolina won the regular season meeting 1-0.