CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - No. 7 Penn hung with No. 2 North Carolina for 30 minutes of action on Saturday in a clash of perennial NCAA Tournament qualifiers, but a 9-2 run by the Tar Heels over the first 21 minutes of the second half broke the game open and led to a 15-6 UNC win.
The Red and Blue took the lead early in the game, with Caroline Bunting connecting on a free position via her first shot of the season. The junior missed the opener with an offseason injury, but returned to the tune of two goals in her season debut.
Bunting's first goal was answered by four consecutive strikes by the Tar Heels before Bunting struck again with 9:16 remaining in the first half. That goal was the final one by either side in the opening 30 minutes as Emily Leitner made three of her career-high 11 saves after Bunting's second goal, denying UNC's two leading scorers on free positions to send Penn to the break trailing by just two.
There is no telling what the score would have been if not for Leitner's work in the first half. In her previous three seasons, the most saves the goalkeeper had ever made in a single game were nine. On Saturday, she matched that total in the first half alone. She stopped UNC free position attempts four times in the game - doing so three times in the opening half.
The area where the game was won and lost was transition play as the Quakers made 12 turnovers, with just four of them being caused. North Carolina pounced on those turnovers and other Penn miscues to gather 21 ground balls to just eight from the Red and Blue. Penn was unable to halt UNC's attack early in the second half, as three goals in 1:14 of game play turned a 4-2 deficit into a 7-2 disadvantage.
After the Heels scored to make it 7-2, Meredith Cain answered for Penn off an Erin Brennan feed with 26:35 to play. Cain had been shot wide off a free position moments earlier, but Brennan corralled the loose ball and fed Cain for the goal.
Brennan then scored one of her own with 22:45 left to make the score 8-4 on an unassisted tally. Penn would not score again until Maddie Poplawski connected on a free position with 8:18 to play. Poplawski was again a factor for Penn, leading all players in the game with six draw controls. Tory Bensen capped the scoring for Penn with 7:36 to play on a free position goal.
The Quakers are now 1-1 this season, while UNC improves to 6-0. The Red and Blue hold their home opener on Wednesday when Rutgers visits Franklin Field at 7 p.m.