By R.L. Bynum
Erin Matson ensured that her storied Carolina career will end in the national championship game.
Matson, one of the greatest players in college field hockey history and among the greatest athletes in any sport in ACC history, scored goals in the second and third quarters and assisted on another to lead No. 1 UNC to a 3–0 victory over No. 6 Penn State in a national semifinal on Friday in Storrs, Conn.
The Tar Heels (20–0) will get a chance for revenge against No. 2 Northwestern — which beat them in the first round last season on its way to winning the national title — at 1:30 Sunday (ESPNU), seeking their 10th national championship.
“Frankly, when you’re playing for a championship, it doesn’t really matter,” UNC coach Karen Shelton said of playing Northwestern. “In the back of their minds, they remember that. We’re not going to try to dig that up by any means; we just want to play our best.”
The Wildcats beat No. 3 Maryland 2–1 in the second semifinal, escaping a last-second Terps corner.
“All the goals were fun to celebrate today, and we’ll feel good about today, but the main focus is watching the next game, scouting who we’re going to play and then coming out strong on Sunday,” Matson said before Northwestern’s win.
Matson’s big game made her the all-time leader in points and goals in NCAA tournament play. She has 52 points, topping Old Dominion’s Marina Di Giacomo (49), and 22 goals (topping Di Giacomo’s 21).
“I’m proud of our team for executing the game plan and working hard,” Shelton said. “To get a shutout against a high-powered Penn State offense, you have to be good.”
It was the first time Penn State has been shut out all season. UNC goalkeeper Abigail Taylor played all 60 minutes and saved the Nittany Lions’ only shot to preserve the Tar Heels’ ninth shutout of the season.
Carolina extended its record of NCAA tournament wins to 76. Maryland, which entering its semifinal game with 68, is second.
Matson gave Carolina the lead for good in the 22nd minute with a goal on her fifth shot of the game off of a Ciana Riccardo assist, when Penn State only had two shots. Riccardo sent a ball straight down the middle and into the circle to Matson, who one-touched it past the Penn State goalkeeper.
Matson flipped in her second goal in the 41st minute, then assisted on Paityn Wirth’s score in the 49th minute early in the fourth quarter.
On Matson’s second score, Ryleigh Heck sent a pass across the cage and Ashley Sessa got her stick on the ball but couldn’t get off a shot. The ball trickled out to the left side of the circle, where Matson tracked it down, turned and fired a shot that struck just inside the post.
Although UNC didn’t score until the second quarter, they had the better of the play for the entire first half.
“For the whole first quarter, we were actually controlling the tempo, we were controlling ball possession, we were getting the ball in the circle, but we didn’t have much to show for it,” Shelton said. “So, we did talk about that in between quarters, trying to get some results.”
UNC moved to 21–7–1 against the Nittany Lions, whose season ended at 17–4. Carolina is 7–1 in NCAA tournament play against Penn State, including a 3–0 victory in the 2007 championship game.
No. 1 UNC 3, No. 6 Penn State 0
|26||Friday||5–1||No. 4 Michigan||Winston-Salem||1–0|
|28||Sunday||3–2 (OT)||No. 11 Iowa||Winston-Salem||2–0|
|2||Friday||4–3||No. 7 Princeton||Home||3–0|
|16||Friday||3–0||No. 12 Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||7–0, |
|23||Friday||2–0||No. 10 Wake Forest||Home||8–0, |
|2||Sunday||6–3||No. 13 Liberty||Lynchburg, Va.||9–0|
|7||Friday||4–3||No. 20 Boston College||Newton, Mass.||10–0, |
|9||Sunday||3–0||No. 15 Connecticut||Storrs, Conn.||11–0|
|14||Friday||6–1||No. 8 Syracuse||Home||12–0, |
|21||Friday||3–1||No. 5 Virginia||Home||13–0, |
|23||Sunday||6–0||No. 9 Saint Joseph’s||Home||14–0, |
|29||Saturday||2–0||No. 25 Duke||Durham||15–0, |
|2||Wednesday||3–1||Semifinal: No. 8 Syracuse||Durham||16–0|
|4||Friday||3–2||Final: No. 5 Virginia||Durham||17–0|
|11||Friday||5–1||First round vs. |
|13||Sunday||5–1||Second round vs. |
No. 9 St. Joseph’s
|18||Friday||3–0||National semifinal vs. |
No. 6 Penn State
|20||Sunday||1:30 p.m.||Championship vs. |
No. 2 Northwestern
Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications