Pitt women’s lacrosse falls to reigning ACC Champions, 15-5, in first conference game


Nate Yonamine | Staff Photographer

Pitt senior midfielder Brittney Villhauer (25) and UNC junior midfielder Olivia Dirks (27) at Thursday’s game at Highmark Stadium.

By Stephen Thompson, Sports Editor

Pitt women’s lacrosse entered Thursday’s game against North Carolina on a hot streak. They and the Tar Heels had both won their first three games and took the field at Highmark Stadium boasting identical 3-0 records.

But as the game wore on, it was clear that not all undefeated teams are built the same. The No. 2 Tar Heels (4-0 overall, 1-0 ACC) — a perennial championship contender in both the ACC and nationally — rolled over fresh-faced Pitt (3-1 overall, 0-1 ACC) in a 15-5 win for the visitors at Highmark Stadium on Thursday afternoon. The Panthers were unable to maintain their play from a strong first period and ended the day having been outdone in almost every statistical category.

Pitt played its highly ranked opponent to a near draw for most of the opening quarter, but surrendered a goal with three seconds left in the first and another score 37 seconds into the second that gave Carolina some separation. The Tar Heels proceeded to score two more goals in close succession to open the second quarter — the harbinger of an onslaught that put the game away before it had even reached halftime.

North Carolina drew first blood less than two minutes in when senior attacker Jamie Ortega snuck a shot past Pitt’s graduate goalie Paulina DiFatta. The visitors dominated time of possession early and often and kept the opposing defense on its heels. Ortega notched her second goal of the game and 11th of the season shortly after off an assist from junior attack Melissa Sconone.

Sconone haunted the Panther defense from the wings and behind the net during the first half, dealing devastating assists to open cutters over the middle for easy shots. She finished the game with four assists, all of which came in a row during a 6-0 run from UNC that spanned the first and second periods.

It took the Panthers a few minutes to find their footing, but with increased comfort on the field came their first goal — a quick goal from sophomore attack Kate Elam scored with 10:27 left in the quarter off a North Carolina turnover that knotted the game at one. It was Pitt’s first real scoring opportunity of the game.

Nate Yonamine | Staff Photographer

The hosts settled in on the defensive end as well, and DiFatta stonewalled multiple close-range Tar Heel shots. The whole defensive unit came up with an impressive stop late in the first half after UNC initiated an odd-numbered breakaway by forcing a turnover at the point of the Pitt attack. The Panthers’ back line held until reinforcements arrived and ultimately turned the attackers away following a possession that lasted almost two and a half minutes.

Fouls were an issue for the Panthers all game. North Carolina converted just one of those infractions into a goal, but the constant pressure made life difficult for DiFatta and the entire unit, which looked like it was constantly a step slow. The Panthers fouled 31 times to UNC’s 12, a margin that illustrates just how hard it was Pitt to keep pace with the elite Tar Heels.

But just as the game took from Pitt, it gave as well. One of the Panthers’ best stretches of the game came when the score was already out of reach. North Carolina did not defend with the same intensity in the second half, and the resulting fouls afforded Pitt some easy looks at the net.

Nate Yonamine | Staff Photographer

The Panthers finally managed to score uninterrupted goals late in the fourth quarter, both off of UNC infractions. The first came with 7:03 left in the game. Senior attacker Scottie Rose Growney committed a cross check against Pitt’s graduate midfielder Chloe Jones thirty seconds earlier. With the one-player advantage, graduate attacker Paige Petty scored Pitt’s fourth goal of the game. Junior attacker Carlie Leach found the back of the net again 27 seconds later off of the free shot that followed a foul from UNC’s junior midfielder Olivia Dirks.

The Panthers fell to 3-1 after dropping their first conference game in program history. They’ll regroup and embark on their first road trip ever — a short trip up to Buffalo, New York for a date with Canisus. The game is slated for a noon start on Sunday.