“North Carolina has a lot of X factors, and [Moreno] was the one today,” BC coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein said.
The title match was the teams’ third meeting this season and second this month. The familiarity served both teams well, with Walker-Weinstein and his staff adjusting BC’s transition play appropriately from what they had learned about the Tar Heels throughout the season.
“We changed our game because we wanted to try to get a little bit more at the end,” Walker-Weinstein said.
The changes worked, as the game was incredibly close even when North Carolina had multi-goal advantages.
After Moreno made a save call within the first 40 seconds of the game, the No. 1 Tar Heels (22-0) immediately scored twice.
The No. 3 Eagles (19-4) got on the board nine minutes into the game when North split a double team to score. A minute and a half later, North leveled the game with a scoring goal, catching a mid-round pass, changing hands and sending the ball into the net. North Carolina followed with three goals in 2:30 to open a 5-2 lead late in the first quarter.
Cassidy Weeks, BC’s semi-final heroine, scored the first of her three goals to open the second quarter. The Eagles grew frustrated in the minutes that followed when Moreno got his stick on two Eagles shots, with a third sailing wide. After that flurry of unsuccessful shots, North Carolina leading scorer Jamie Ortega scored from an open position to give his team a 6-3 lead.
Jenn Medjid scored for British Columbia a minute later, but Caitlyn Wurzburger followed for North Carolina. Weeks scored his second of the game just before halftime to make it 7-5.
The teams traded possession early in the third quarter and BC converted first when Medjid shot into the center of the Tar Heels net, bringing the game to within one.
With just five minutes remaining in the third, Eagles keeper Rachel Hall made a superb save and sent the ball through midfield to teammate Belle Smith. Smith got it to North, who was fouled, creating an open position. North converted it, tying the game, 7-7.
Seconds later, Hall made another save and North found himself with the ball again. His bounce shot sailed into the net, giving BC its first lead. But just before the end of the third, Ally Mastroianni of the Tar Heels scored to tie the game at 8.
BC gathered momentum early in the fourth quarter as Kayla Martello scored at 1:40 to regain the lead. A minute later, Ortega leapt onto the court on a breakaway and tied the game for North Carolina. Communication issues from the Eagles defense allowed Nicole Humphrey to score to put the Tar Heels back in front.
With 10 minutes remaining, Smith tied the game at 10. But Sam Geiersbach and Scottie Rose Growney added points to give the Tar Heels a 12-10 lead in the dying minutes of the game. In the final minute of the game, staunch defender Melanie Welch forced a turnover and Weeks used the opportunity to score, bringing the Eagles within a goal with 15 seconds left. A foul on the resulting tie left BC on one player, leaving North Carolina to hang on for the win.
“We needed to have a few more games at the end and made different coaching calls to help out,” a disappointed Walker-Weinstein said. “Caroline was amazing today, but so were we.”
Kat Cornetta can be contacted at [email protected]