Sept. 12, 2009

Courtesy of North Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Senior midfielder Nikki Washington and junior forward Jessica McDonald scored goals in the final nine minutes of action and top-ranked North Carolina's defense posted its fifth straight shutout as the Tar Heels beat No. 13 Texas A&M 2-0 Saturday afternoon in women's soccer action before a crowd of 1,846 at Fetzer Field. Carolina remains unbeaten with the victory, improving to 6-0 on the campaign while Texas A&M fell to 3-3.

The Tar Heels got the goals they needed to remain undefeated at the 81:45 and 87:26 marks of the match when Washington and McDonald scored, respectively. The game was evenly played for 57 minutes, with both teams having recorded six shots at that time. Carolina then revved up its offensive engine and kept control of possession for much of the rest of the match, taking the last nine shots of the game. The two teams combined for 19 shots in a row that did not find the back of the net, but the last two shots of the game, both by the Tar Heels, broke the plane of the goal line to produce the final result.

Carolina's defense was again one of its strong points in the victory as Ashlyn Harris and all three starting defenders - Rachel Givan, Whitney Engen and Kristi Eveland - went the full 90 minutes. The clean sheet was UNC's fifth in a row and Ashlyn Harris now has three solo shutouts this season. Both teams substituted liberally on a day when the temperature was close to 90 degrees and the field was drenched in sunshine. Only five players for Carolina and three players for the Aggies played the full 90. The Tar Heel defense has now kept opposing teams off the scoreboard for the last 453 minutes and 21 seconds of play.

Texas A&M had the game's first great scoring chance in the sixth minute when Amber Gnatzig made a solo run as A&M quickly reversed the field against the Tar Heels. Gnatzig slipped between a couple of defenders and sent a close range shot at Harris. The senior goalkeeper made a reaction save at the last second, pushing the ball over the bar for a corner kick.

The Tar Heels outshot the Aggies 5-2 in the first half. The two best scoring opportunities for Carolina came off the foot of Casey Nogueira. Nogueira found some space among the defense and fired a shot from about 20 yards out in the ninth minute only to see if curl over the bar just high. Nogueira then got behind the A&M defense after receiving a pass from Ali Hawkins in the 14th minute but her shot was deflected by a Texas A&M defender over the end line for a corner kick.

The defenses then dominated the first half after the opening 19 minutes of play with only one shot being taken between the 18:28 mark and intermission. That shot, by Merritt Mathias, at 37:31, resulted in the first save of the game for Texas A&M's starting keeper Kristin Arnold.

The Texas A&M side came out in the second half and put pressure on the UNC defense with four of the first five shots of the half being produced by the Aggies' attack. Arnold made the first save of the second half on a shot by Nogueira less than five minutes into the half. The next four shots came from A&M. Kim Castleberry had a shocked blocked in the 53rd minute and Mary Grace Schmidt sent one wide right a half minute later.

The Aggies then had a golden opportunity to take the lead at the 56:27 mark when a feed into the box from the right side found Chelsea Jones, whose shot from the four-yard line was batted away by Harris, deflecting off the cross bar for a corner kick. On the ensuing corner, Bri Young took A&M's final shot of the game, parrying her effort high and to the left at 56:59.

From that point on, all of the offensive thrust came from the Tar Heels. At 63:19, Jessica McDonald dribbled into the right side of the box and sent a tough angle shot on frame that Arnold snared for her third save of the match. In the 68th minute, the Tar Heels had a golden opportunity to score as Nogueira sent a feed from the left side to McDonald in the center of the box where she found herself unmarked. McDonald sent her shot just over the cross bar and the match remained scoreless.

In the 73rd minute, Tobin Heath's shot was turned away by Arnold and a little over a minute later Alyssa Rich tried to bend one in from the right side of the box but it went high over the bar at the far post. At 74:29, Emmalie Pfankuch's header sailed high, denying the Tar Heels again. About a minute and a half later, the Tar Heels were awarded a direct kick on the right side of the field after a foul on A&M. Casey Nogueira sent a line drive shot that she attempted to bend inside the left post but Arnold was there to claim her fifth save of the contest.

The Tar Heels finally broke through to score in the 82nd minute as Nikki Washington notched her second goal of the campaign and it was her second game-winner as well (first came August 30 versus UNC Greensboro). Ali Hawkins jump started the play by feeding Tobin Heath down the left side of the pitch. Heath dribbled at the A&M defense and saw Washington make a run up the right flank. Heath's ball found Washington in stride and the senior from Mesquite, Texas jumped on the opportunity to send a shot inside the right post past Arnold.

Carolina then got an insurance goal at the 87:26 mark as Jessica McDonald scored her third goal of the season, all in the last three matches. Carolina reversed the flow of the play quickly by sending the ball from its end to Courtney Jones at the top of the box. Jones gained possession and flicked it on to Jessica McDonald who finished with a shot on the ground inside the left post under the outstretched arms of Texas A&M keeper Kristin Arnold.

Carolina now leads the all-time series with the Aggies by a 12-1 margin. The Tar Heels have won five in a row against Texas A&M. Each of the previous six games between the two teams had been decided by a single goal, dating back to a regular-season game in 2003. Saturday's two-goal separation was the widest margin of victory in the series since the Tar Heels beat Texas A&M 2-0 on November 29, 2002 in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals at Fetzer Field.

Carolina returns to action next weekend for its final two non-conference games of the season. The Tar Heels will compete in the 2009 Duke Nike Classic at Koskinen Stadium in Durham, N.C. UNC will play LSU Friday at 5 p.m. and Auburn Sunday at 12 noon in the tournament.