'A pitch is a pitch'

'A pitch is a pitch'

photo by Will Bryant

On Saturday, the North Carolina field hockey team played its first home game of the season, hosting Boston College. “Home” is a bit relative, though, considering that the Tar Heels will call Duke’s Jack Katz Stadium home for the next three months.

But after today, the complex may feel a bit more homey.

Led by a first-half goal from Eva Smolenaars, and a overtime tally from Ashley Hoffman, the Tar Heels earned a win in the first game at their temporary residence.

Coach Karen Shelton knew it would take some adjustment for the team to feel comfortable playing in Durham, and today is a firm step in that direction.

“I was really pleased that the band was over here — I think that they gave us a lift — and we heard the crowd,” Shelton said. “But when it comes down to it, a pitch is a pitch and the kids came to play.”

The Tar Heels came out firing, scoring just three minutes into the game on Smolenaars' first career goal. UNC kept the pressure on the Eagles for the remainder of the half — the Tar Heels took 11 shots and earned four corners — but could not find the back of the cage.

After intermission, the game looked much the same. UNC controlled the tempo an possession and attacked in the offensive half, yet the team couldn’t get past Boston College goalie Sarah Dwyer. The lack of finishing came back to haunt the Heels in the 60th minute, as the Eagles Ymke Rose Gote ripped in the equalizing goal.

With momentum shifting toward Boston College, the Tar Heels had to refocus and get back into their style of play. With solid defensive efforts, the UNC back-line was able to thwart the Eagles' attempts to take the lead in regulation.

That scare of nearly falling behind put some fire into the North Carolina team. The Tar Heels came out for the extra period like a well-oiled machine.

“I thought at times we looked a little unorganized, fatigued and careless with the ball, but we were able to hang on and get the overtime,” Shelton said.

“And I thought we looked good in the overtime. I think we dominated that.”

In the extra period, UNC took six shots, earned three corners and seemingly held the ball in the offensive half for the entirety. It was set to be a 15-minute period, but playing under “golden goal” rules — golden goal is like sudden death, the first team to score wins the game — allowed the Tar Heels to end it after 8:25 of play.

Eva Van’t Hoog showcased dazzling stick work before laying off to an open Ashley Hoffman, who buried the goal to give UNC a win in their opener at its home away from home.

“Games like this are not pretty, but to get a win even though we’re not playing a perfect game is good for us because sometimes we get caught giving up and we end up losing because we’re discouraged," Hoffman said. "But to get an overtime win I think is really going to help us in the future.”

The Tar Heels will look to keep the ball rolling when they "host" James Madison tomorrow at 3 p.m. in Durham. It's not quite home, but for this team, a pitch is a pitch.

@WillDBryant