(Photo Courtesy of NCAA)
The Virginia Cavaliers will get the chance to defend their title on Memorial Day after taking down the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels 12-11 in the first NCAA Semifinal contest on Saturday afternoon.
It was the rubber match between the ACC rivals as the Tar Heels and Cavaliers split the regular-season season 1-1.
Despite a six-point (2G/4A) game from redshirt freshman Connor Shellenberger and a 7-1 second quarter sparked by a nine straight faceoff wins from Petey LaSalla to push Virginia ahead 9-4 at the half, it was the Cavaliers’ defense that came up big on Saturday in Hartford.
While two straight from Payton Cormier and Ian Laviano (both assisted by Connor Shellenberger) helped push Virginia back ahead by four heading into the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers were blanked in the final period of play, in part due to the Tar Heels ride holding Virginia to 8-12 in the clearing game and Zac Tucci going 8-for-12 at the faceoff dot in the second half.
A failed Virginia clear led to William Perry’s fifth goal of the game to pull North Carolina within one (12-11) with 3:05 left in regulation and extend their run to three goals. However, it would be the last goal of the contest.
North Carolina had multiple opportunities in the final minutes of the game to tie things up, but the Tar Heels were never able to convert. Alex Rode stopped a Nicky Solomon shot with 2:19 left and Chris Gray had a shot sail wide with 31 seconds left. A phenomenal backup from Grayson Sallade, who ended the day with eight ground balls and two caused turnovers, gave Virginia possession back following the Gray shot but the Cavaliers turned the ball right back over.
The Virginia defense held in the final 20 seconds of the contest to secure the win and punch their ticket back to Championship Monday.
Alex Rode anchored the Virginia defensive effort with 15 saves (8 in the second half) while Payton Cormier netted a hat trick to add to the Shellenberger-led Virginia offense.
In addition to Perry’s five goals, Chris Gray had five points off three goals and two assists for North Carolina.