COLLEGE PARK, Md. - In a battle of top-10 teams, No. 1 North Carolina took advantage of two penalty corner opportunities to claim the 2011 ACC Championship, defeating the eighth-ranked Duke field hockey team 2-1 Sunday afternoon at Maryland's Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex.
A defensive battle for most of the game, North Carolina (20-1) outshot Duke (13-7) 10-3, while also holding the Blue Devils without a penalty corner on the afternoon. The Tar Heels were able to generate seven penalty corner opportunities, which lead to both UNC goals.
"It wasn't our sharpest game as a unit," said head coach Pam Bustin, "but I thought as we got going in the first half, we found our rhythm and we did a nice job of playing within the game. We survived, we hung in there and we created enough to score a goal. It was a great experience for us. UNC has a lot of very good athletes, very good field hockey players. It was a great challenge for our team and we're going to learn from that challenge and respond to that challenge."
Neither team was able to generate a scoring opportunity in the first half with North Carolina taking four shots to Duke's one. Redshirt senior goalkeeper Samantha Nelson, who saved three shots on the day, made two saves in the first half to keep the Tar Heels off the scoreboard, and Duke's best chance of the period came on freshman Jessica Buttinger's shot late in the half.
North Carolina broke the scoreless tie early in the second stanza as the Tar Heels earned a corner to set up the goal. Katie Ardrey deflected the shot from Marta Malmberg to give UNC the one goal advantage with 31 minutes left in the game.
The Tar Heels added to their lead 11 minutes later as Elizabeth Stephens straight shot of a penalty corner bounced into the cage.
Trailing 2-0, Duke got on the board in the 65th minute as junior Devon Gagliardi found Buttinger on the near post. Buttinger proceeded to beat the goalkeeper for her seventh goal of the season, cutting UNC's lead to 2-1.
Yet the Blue Devils were unable to come up with game-tying goal in the final five minutes. With 15 seconds to play, Duke sent a long pass from the midfield, which junior Mary Nielsen deflected at the top of the circle; however the UNC goalie deflected the ball away, ensuring the victory for the Tar Heels.
"[Our team] plays with a lot of heart, and we're developing more and more belief every time we step on the field," added Bustin. "I couldn't be more proud of how they fought until the very end and put themselves in a position to tie the game; we can build on that."
Duke will look to earn an at-large bid to the 2011 NCAA Tournament, which begins Nov. 12. The selection show is set for Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 8 p.m.