If there’s a Final Four going on these days, there’s a good chance a team from North Carolina will be involved.
Two weeks ago, the Tar Heels sent both their men’s and women’s soccer teams to the NCAA’s College Cup at Sahlen’s Stadium in Cary. Last week the field hockey team took home its national championship. This weekend, their lacrosse teams will take center stage with each earning a spot in their respective national semifinal.
The men’s team will take on ACC rival Virginia on Saturday in East Hartford, Connecticut, in a Final Four that also includes Duke and one-time conference member Maryland. The national championship game will be played Monday.
The women will also match up against a familiar foe, Boston College, in Towson, Maryland, on Friday, with the winner advancing to Sunday’s title game against either Syracuse or Northwestern.
“This is why you come to UNC,” said senior Chris Gray, the team’s leading scorer. “You come to win a national championship, that’s why I’m here. To give ourselves that opportunity is something I’ve been looking forward to. It will be my first Final Four, so I’m really excited for that.”
Gray, the only player to rank among the top 10 nationally in both goals and assists, had his 31-game scoring streak snapped Saturday against Rutgers in Hempstead, New York.
His teammates, especially Connor McCarthy, made up the difference by providing enough offensive support to squeak out a 12-11 overtime victory that propelled the top-seeded Tar Heels (13-2) into their first NCAA title game since winning the national championship in 2016.
McCarthy, a graduate transfer who played his first three college seasons at Princeton, scored his team’s first goal of the game. But it was his second one, on an assist from William Perry with 1:38 remaining in the first overtime, that proved to be the most memorable and important.
The decisive goal capped a comeback that saw UNC rally from a two-goal fourth-quarter deficit, tying the score at 11 on an unassisted goal by Zac Tucci.
Sophomore Lance Tillman led the Tar Heels with a career-high four goals, while senior Justin Anderson netted three for his second hat trick in the past three games.
“I love the way we won this game,” coach Joe Breschi said. “Obviously, we’ve had some games that haven’t been that close. But for us to grit it out, in particular against a really tough, physical team the way we did in the second half, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys and how they did it.”
Like the UNC men, the top-seeded women’s team also had to come from behind on Saturday to earn its Final Four opportunity.
The undefeated Tar Heels trailed eighth-seeded Stony Brook 11-9 with just under nine minutes remaining before finishing with a flourish, scoring the game’s final five goals to take a 14-11 victory at Dorrance Field in Chapel Hill.
Five different players — Scottie Rose Growney, Jamie Ortega, Tayler Warehime, Ally Mastroianni and Katie Hoeg — contributed goals in the game-winning flurry to send UNC (20-0) to the national semifinals for the 12th time, including nine of the last 12 NCAA Tournaments.
“I’m really proud of the way my upperclassmen stepped up for us,” coach Jenny Levy said. “At eight minutes, down by two, I was curious to see how we’d handle it. We work on situations all the time in practice, so I knew we had it in us. We just had to buckle down and get it done.”
Duke’s men also had a senior step up in a big spot to beat Loyola 10-9 on Sunday to earn their 13th Final Four trip overall and 11th of coach John Danowski’s tenure.
First, though, it took a clutch play from a freshman to set up senior Joe Robertson’s game-winner 57 seconds into overtime of a game that featured three lead changes and six ties.
Brennan O’Neill scored his fourth goal of the game, a man-advantage tally with 1:09 remaining in regulation, to tie the score and set up the dramatic extra period.
Long-stick midfielder Tyler Carpenter, a Durham native, started the winning play by intercepting a Loyola pass and immediately turning upfield. With no timeouts remaining to set up a play, Robertson took matters into his own hands by bouncing a shot into the net to put the Blue Devils (14-2) over the top.
It was Robertson’s third overtime goal this season and fourth of his career, including the game-winner in a 2019 NCAA Tournament game against Notre Dame.