ANN ARBOR, Michigan -- They call it the Wold Challenge around Chapel Hill, and the North Carolina field hockey team completed it once again, this time on the sport's biggest stage.
Tar Heels freshman forward Malin Evert scored two goals -- including one just 2:13 into the contest -- to beat Duke 2-0 in Friday's second semifinal of the NCAA Field Hockey Championship at Ocker Field. North Carolina (21-2) will meet another Atlantic Coast Conference rival, Syracuse (20-1), in Sunday's 1 p.m. title game.
Named for senior captain Emily Wold's insistence that the Tar Heels start each game as the aggressor, achieving the Wold Challenge requires North Carolina to record a shot, penalty corner or goal within the first two minutes. Coach Karen Shelton said it puts opponents -- no pun intended -- "on their heels."
"I think it's crucial coming out right away, if you can get anything going it kind of makes it seem like (we) mean business," Wold said. "It brings a lot of energy when you can right off the bat get something on goal."
That's exactly what North Carolina did Friday as it began its quest for a seventh national title. After a flurry in front of the Duke net, Evert tipped a corner direct shot by Nina Notman past Duke goalkeeper Lauren Blazing.
The score remained 1-0 through halftime, but Duke (14-7) overcame North Carolina's fast start and began creating more opportunities of its own early in the second half. In what was perhaps the play of the game, junior left back Kristy Bernatchez made a stellar defensive save on a shot by Hannah Barreca after a Duke corner to foil the Blue Devils' best scoring chance.
Shelton said Bernatchez, who she called "kind of an unsung player," had the best game of her career in the semifinal. "I thought she defended well, attacked well, made some really good decisions and gave us sparks when we needed it," Shelton said. "It was a heckuva save, but just one of her many big plays during the game."
Four minutes after the save, North Carolina extended its lead to 2-0 when Evert tipped a pass across the circle from Casey DiNardo into the cage.
Duke coach Pam Bustin said "little things" like the defensive saves (Notman also had one for the Tar Heels) and Evert's two tipped goals were the difference in the game.
"Our defense did a good of staying in front all day long and (North Carolina) took advantage of the couple of moments when we were behind," Blazing said in an emotional Duke post-game press conference.
"We had our opportunities and at times I thought we controlled the tempo of the game," Bustin said. "At this level, on this final weekend, it is going to come down to critical moments. ... For us, it's a takeaway to get better in the future that those little things matter in the key moments. That's what it comes down to."