Pushed to the Brink, North Carolina Comes Back to Beat Stony Brook


Jamie Ortega had four goals and three assists, leading North Carolina in its 14-11 come-from-behind win over Stony Brook.

Jamie Ortega started speaking during Saturday’s postgame press conference via Zoom unknowingly on mute.

Like the North Carolina offense, which was muted in the first half before coming alive in crunch time, Ortega flipped the switch and got things going.

Eighth-seeded Stony Brook blitzed the top-seeded Tar Heels in the first seven minutes, starting the NCAA quarterfinal with three goals. UNC awakened and went blow-for-blow with Stony Brook until another offensive lull in the second half that allowed the Seawolves to take a two-goal lead with 11:18 to play.

UNC, carrying the weight of lofty expectations and staring down the latest two-goal deficit its faced in a game this spring, found its spark. The Tar Heels scored six of the game’s final seven goals, advancing to Championship Weekend with a 14-11 win at Dorrance Field in Chapel Hill.

“They played scrappy and gritty,” Ortega said of the Seawolves, who have lost in the NCAA quarterfinals in three of the last four seasons the tournament has been played. “They really tested us, but I think sometimes it’s good to have tests like that.”

Ortega, who notched four goals and three assists for a game-high seven points, saved her two most crucial tallies for late.

Trailing 10-8 after a furious 4-0 run by Stony Brook (16-3), the Tar Heels — and Katie Hoeg, specifically — turned to Ortega. Earlier this year, UNC head coach Jenny Levy told USA Lacrosse Magazine contributor Ella Brockway that the Hoeg-Ortega duo will go down in history.

On Saturday, they prevented a historic upset. Hoeg assisted Ortega to cut the deficit to 10-9. After Taryn Ohlmiller responded for Stony Brook and made the score 11-9, Ortega fed Scottie Rose Growney and then converted another feed from Hoeg to tie the score at 11.

Like many of Ortega’s 81 goals this year, it started with a circus catch and finished with nearly unfathomable body control and placement.

Tayler Warehime, who scored the first UNC goal that broke Stony Brook’s game-opening run, converted an Ortega pass for the go-ahead goal two minutes later. While that proved to be the game-winner, Stony Brook wasn’t done fighting. It was an unforced error in the midfield that might have been the nail in the coffin, though.

Facing staunch full-field pressure from the Tar Heels after Ally Kennedy won a pivotal draw control, Rayna Sabella found herself twisting and turning to avoid a UNC trap. She turned back toward the middle and heaved a pass toward the restraining line, where two teammates were in the vicinity of where the pass might go.

But Kayla Wood read the ball off its release, intercepting the pass and turning a potential Seawolves threat into a goal from Ally Mastroianni for a 13-11 lead. Elizabeth Hillman won the next draw, and Hoeg scored on a free-position shot from the left wing to ice the game at 14-11.

Levy called the play by Wood “unbelievable.” Hoeg said it was her “favorite play of the day.” With seven players named to USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American teams, it was players like Wood, Warehime and others — talented athletes who can get overlooked playing alongside a laundry list of superstars — who made the biggest plays Saturday.

“It just goes to show our depth on this team and how everybody on this team is special,” said Hoeg, who had one goal and five assists. “A lot of the time, with those lists, there are only so many people who can make it. But it’s our depth that makes us truly special and how everyone brings something unique to the table.”

The Tar Heels, now 20-0, played one-goal games against Notre Dame and Duke in April, but it would be difficult to argue against Stony Brook providing them with their stiffest test in a season when running clocks have been commonplace.

Their semifinal matchup against Boston College brings the opportunity for another battle. Levy said the mental fortitude her team showed will suit them well next weekend.

“Having games that challenge us is important,” said Levy, acknowledging that said games have been few and far between this season. “It gives our group belief, and it gives us the journey we can draw upon for strength moving forward.”

So even after a muted start — in both the game and the press conference — North Carolina came alive, affirming its might to a women’s lacrosse world that has come to expect one-sided scores when UNC is involved.

Just after unmuting her microphone, Ortega confidently acknowledged the target on UNC’s back that grows larger by the day.

“At this point in the season, everyone’s going to play their best game against you,” she said. “No one really likes us. Everyone wants to beat us.”

Nothing quiet about that.

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