Brewer: Extended Work Wins Two Titles
by Rick Brewer, Sports Information Director Emeritus
North Carolina won a pair of championships this weekend.
But, it took a little longer than expected.
The women's lacrosse team captured the NCAA title with a 13-12 triple overtime victory over previously unbeaten Maryland.
The baseball team meanwhile swept four straight ACC Tournament games to take its first league championship since 2007. However, the Tar Heels had to play 41 innings in 44 hours to do it.
Carolina was the favorite to take the baseball championship at Durham Athletic Park. No one could have imagined 14 and 18-inning games would be required to do so.
On the other hand, the third-ranked lacrosse team was an underdog at Villanova Stadium. The Tar Heels had to face second-ranked Northwestern in the semifinals and top-seeded Maryland in the championship game.
But, Carolina routed the Wildcats, 11-4, before outlasting the Terps, 13-12, in the longest championship game in NCAA Tournament history.
After an initial overtime was scoreless, the teams played sudden death until the 73rd minute of the game yielded a winner. Freshman Sammy Jo Tracy scored a transition goal just 31 seconds into the third overtime to win the game in stunning fashion.
Goalkeeper Megan Ward, another freshman, came up with huge saves, especially in overtime and the sudden death periods. Maryland had five extra-man opportunities, including two in the overtimes, but failed to score each time.
Tracy's clinching goal came immediately after the Terps appeared set to win themselves. Maryland had a breakaway after the initial draw for an uncontested shot on goal. But, Ward stuffed the point-blank shot and cleared the ball to Brittney Coppa. Coppa found Tracy, breaking left of the goal for the game-winner.
"Brittany beautifully put it into my stick," said Tracy. "I just let one rip, just like we do every day in practice. To see that ball go in the back of the net was something I've dreamed about ever since my dad put a stick in my hand."
Carolina jumped to a fast 3-0 lead, including a goal by Aly Messinger just 39 seconds into the game. Coppa had the other two. In fact, the Tar Heels made their first seven shots of the game and had a 9-6 halftime lead.
Maryland scored five straight times after intermission for an 11-9 advantage. But, Coppa ended the Terp run with an unassisted goal. Kara Cannizzaro, the Tournament MVP, scored back-to-back goals to give the Tar Heels a 12-11 lead. Maryland tied the game with 3:51 left to force overtime.
Then came two scoreless overtimes before Ward and Ttacy made the big plays in sudden death.
Cannizzaro, who had four goals against Northwestern, scored four more against Maryland and added two assists. Coppa and Messinger had three goals each.
Cannizzaro is one of those players coaches like to say "let the game come to them." All of her goals against the Wildcats came in the second half. She didn't score against Maryland until the Terps pulled to within 5-4. She scored twice in just over a minute to again give Carolina a three-goal edge. She then had her other two goals at the end of regulation.
She may well have locked up the Tewaaraton Trophy as national player of the year in the final two games.
"It was an amazing game to be a part of," said Carolina coach Jenny Levy. "After the second overtime, I just sat back and trusted my kids to do what they do. They've worked so hard all year. That work and their composure were big factors tonight. Our seniors were the reason for that. Then the two freshmen made the winning plays at the end."
Maryland Coach Cathy Reese said, "I think this will go down as one of the most exciting games in the history of our sport."
Carolina coach Mike Fox also used "exciting" and "pressure-packed" to describe his team's wins in the ACC Baseball Tournament.
The Tar Heels blew out Miami, 10-0, in the opening game. Carolina then made a startling comeback to defeat Clemson, 12-7, in 14 innings on Friday night. But, that was just a prelude to an 18-inning, six-hour showdown with N.C. State the following evening.
A spot in the Tournament championship game was at stake. The game attracted a standing-room crowd of 11,391, the largest ever to see a college game in this state. The Tar Heels finally outlasted the Wolfpack in a game that ended just before 2:00 a.m.
Carolina had to face Virginia Tech for the title at 1 p.m. That meant little sleep or much time to eat before playing the Hokies. But, the Tar Heels scored two early runs and Taylore Cherry and Trevor Kelley made them stand up for a 4-1 victory.
However, it was the two previous games that left Tar Heel players and fans exhausted.
"We didn't get any rest before the finals," said Fox. "We really just played on adrenalin."
Carolina had faced a 7-2 deficit in the ninth inning against Clemson. But, Brian Holberton capped a five-run rally with a two-out, three-run homer.
Carolina finally broke through for five more runs in the 14th. The big blow was Chaz Frank's bases-loaded triple.
The Tar Heels finished with 19 hits, four of them by Cody Stubbs.
As so often happens in baseball, Fox wished a couple of those hits could have been saved for the following night. Carolina managed just six hits in 18 innings and only one in the first 10 against State's Carlos Rodon.
It was the type of game in which a player could feel like he was in a weeklong slump. Batting averages could drop 10 points or more. It was something new for one of the highest scoring teams in the country. The Heels entered the State game hitting .313 as a team and averaging 8.3 runs a game.
Their first hit Saturday night did not come until Stubbs singled in the seventh. Carolina tied the game, 1-1, in the eighth inning on a walk and a pair of Wolfpack errors.
Carolina pushed across its second run when Landon Lassiter led off the 18th with a walk and eventually scored on a short sacrifice fly by Stubbs.
A leadoff double and a wild pitch gave the Wolfpack a man on third with nobody out in the bottom of the inning. But, reliever Chris Munnelly worked out of trouble.
Relief pitching was really the story of the weekend for Carolina. The bullpen worked 25 1/3 innings and allowed just eight hits and one earned run. Reilly Hovis pitched five scoreless innings against Clemson and Trent Thornton did not allow a hit in 6 2/3 innings against N.C. State. Trevor Kelley had four innings of one-hit relief against Virginia Tech.
"I think everybody felt it was our championship to win," said Fox on Sunday. "I didn't say it, but I could sense it this morning that hopefully we didn't go through all that last night for nothing.
"I've never been through anything quite like the State game."
More extra work would be needed that night at Villanova. Jenny Levy and her lacrosse team would have similar results on a championship Sunday for Carolina.