March 22, 2014

North Carolina Hands No. 1 Maryland First Loss in 2014

by Max Miceli | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

In-Game Blog Replay

 

With an 0-2 record in the ACC, the pressure was on the No. 7 North Carolina men's lacrosse team heading into its showdown against top-ranked Maryland.

But in what UNC coach Joe Breschi considers to be without a doubt the team's most complete game thus far, the Tar Heels edged out the Terrapins 11-8.

Forcing the Terps into 16 turnovers, seven of which were in the fourth quarter, and holding Maryland to less than 10 points for the first time this season, UNC's defense proved its worth.

"All you hear about the UNC defense is that they're not that great," goalkeeper Kieran Burke said. "And we've been proving them wrong so it feels good."

With face-off specialist Stephen Kelly, who went 13-20 against Duke's All-American Brendan Fowler, out of the lineup, UNC's face-off game was one by committee — and it showed.

Only winning seven of the games 23 face-offs, the UNC defense had its hands full dealing with players like Matt Rambo and Mike Chanenchuk, but the senior laden group was prepared.

By having Pennsylvania native Austin Pifani, who's played with Matt Rambo his entire life, mark the freshman sensation, UNC kept him in check and off the stat sheet. While Rambo recorded seven shots, he never scored.

UMD coach John Tilman observed that Pifani wasn't the only defender UNC that came ready to play though. "They have good pieces," he said. "They have really good individual defenders."

For Breschi, it was about taking that individual talent and turning it into a full team performance that lasted sixty minutes.

"I really credit the defense," he said. "(Maryland) has so many offensive weapons that it was so critical for us to communicate. For us it was important to change up their momentum a little bit and change up what they do."

And while that may have started with a perfect combination of raw athleticism and communication, it turned into goals when UNC needed them.

With a two-point game in the fourth quarter and UNC having little success at the face-off X, the Tar Heels by no means had a comfortable margin, but defensive play caused a turnover with just under eight minutes left, And they were off to the races.

As UNC defender Jake Bailey raced down the field to clear the ball, there was no place the ball was going except for the back of the net.

Scoring his first goal of the season and giving the Tar Heels their largest lead of the game, Bailey put the final touches on a UNC victory that closely resembles the 10-8 regular season win the Tar Heels had against Maryland last season when the Terps were also ranked No. 1.

Though the likes of UNC's Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter didn't find much success putting the ball in the goal until late in the game, 12 saves by Kieran Burke stopped the show and allowed the Tar Heel attack to play stress free for most of the game.

"I wasn't really thinking about (not scoring early) that much," Sankey said. "It's really just about trying to keep getting those opportunities and knowing that it's eventually going to fall."

And eventually they did as Sankey led the team in goals with Pat Foster scoring twice.

"It's been a heck of a two weeks," Breschi said about being in the meat of his schedule after the upset victory. "Our guys stepped up.

Just an overall great team win."


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