CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Top-ranked North Carolina overcame a slow start to race past 10th-ranked Lehigh 16-7 in the first round of the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Tournament Saturday afternoon at Fetzer Field. Eleven different Tar Heels scored in the game as UNC rang up its largest margin of victory in an NCAA Tournament game since 1990 when current head coach Joe Breschi served as the senior solo captain for Coach Willie Scroggs' final Carolina team.
ACC champion North Carolina improved to 13-3 on the campaign, its most wins in a season since 2010, and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals for the third time in Breschi's five years as head coach. The Tar Heels will be making their first quarterfinal appearance in three years next Sunday in Indianapolis, Ind., at Lucas Oil Stadium. The fifth-seeded Tar Heels will play fourth-seeded Denver in the quarterfinals after the Pioneers routed Albany 19-14 Saturday night in a first-round game in Denver. A quarterfinal win next Sunday would give Carolina is first Final Four appearance since 1993.
The UNC-Denver game has been set for Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 12 noon at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU and also available on mobile devies on WatchESPN.
The Mountain Hawks led 2-1 after the first quarter but Carolina scored the opening five goals of the second quarter to take a 6-2 lead and never looked back. Carolina maintained at least a two-goal lead for the last 40:11 of the game as it answered every time Lehigh tried to stage a comeback.
The Mountain Hawks stuck around until late in the third quarter but UNC outscored the Patriot League champions 7-1 over the last 15:56 of the match to capture the victory going away. Lehigh finished its outstanding 2013 season with a record of 12-5.
Tewaaraton Trophy finalist Marcus Holman led Carolina with a goal and four assists while sophomore attackman Jimmy Bitter and sophomore midfielder Chad Tutton each had three goals and an assist for the Tar Heels. Freshman Steve Pontrello added a pair of goals, matching his career high, as Carolina scored 16 goals against a Lehigh defense that came into the match allowing only 7.44 goals per game, tied for second in the nation. Other goal scorers for UNC were midfielders Greg McBride, Walker Chafee, R.G. Keenan, Davey Emala, Ryan Creighton, Spencer Parks and attackman Patrick Kelly. Joey Sankey had a trio of assists for Carolina while Jake Matthai and Greg McBride also had helpers.
In the past two games Holman and Sankey, UNC's two leading scorers, have one goal combined yet the Tar Heels scored 16 goals each time, beating Virginia 16-13 in the ACC Tournament final and Patriot League champion Lehigh 16-7 in the NCAA first round. In those two games, however, Holman and Sankey have combined to assist on 15 of those 32 UNC goals.
The five points for Holman increased his career school record in that category to 213. He has posted three or more assists in a game seven times this year in 16 games. Holman has 79 points this season, the second most in Carolina history. He needs two points to tie Bruce Ledwith's school record of 81 points in a season set in 1973. Holman also increased his season assist total to 42, the third most in a season in UNC history and four short of the school mark.
Holman also ran his consecutive game streak with at least one point to 31 games in a row. Jimmy Bitter has now scored goals in 10 straight games and has points in 26 games in a row. Joey Sankey's point streak improved to 20 games in a row and Chad Tutton has now scored at least one goal in 12 straight games and in 24 of the past 25 contests.
Lehigh was led in scoring by senior attackman David DiMaria who figured in five of its seven goals. DiMaria scored two goals and assisted on three. Patrick Corbett had two goals for the Mountain Hawks but the Tar Heel defense forced 15 turnovers and limited Lehigh to single digits in scoring for the first time in seven games.
The Tar Heels outshot the Mountain Hawks in every period, ending with a 53-30 edge. UNC also led in ground balls 38-26. Carolina continued its season-long trend of taking care of the ball, committing only nine turnovers while the Mountain Hawks had 15.
Taking better care of the ball was a big key in the game for Carolina. On Saturday, UNC generated 34 shots on goal and committed only nine turnovers. Conversely, when the Mountain Hawks came to Fetzer Field last year and beat Carolina 9-8 in the regular season, the Heels had 19 turnovers in that game and only 16 shots on goal.
Another big factor in UNC's win was junior R.G. Keenan's stellar play in the face-off circle as he won 15 of 22 face-offs and scooped up a game-high eight ground balls. It was the fifth time this season that Keenan has won at least 15 face-offs in a match. Keenan won 10 of 13 draws in the first half, helping the Tar Heels keep a possession advantage until they started to solve Lehigh goalkeeper Matt Poillon who had nine first-half saves, including five in the first quarter, as Lehigh started out with a 2-1 lead after the opening 15 minutes.
Poillon finished with a career-high 18 saves for Lehigh while Kieran Burke went the whole way for UNC, making eight saves. Both teams cleared the ball effectively with Lehigh going 16 for 18 and UNC finishing 13 of 14. Both teams had multiple extra-man opportunities with UNC going 2-for-5 and Lehigh finishing 1-for-4.
The game started slowly for the Heels as Lehigh led 2-1 after the opening period. DiMaria rolled the crease to give the Mountain Hawks a 1-0 just over five minutes into the match before Marcus Holman fed Jimmy Bitter for the game-tying goal 32 seconds later. The Mountain Hawks then took advantage of UNC's only failed clear of the game to score with 6:35 left in the period as Patrick Corbett notched the first of his two goals.
But the Tar Heel transition game began to click in the opening minutes of the second stanza and the game turned on that. UNC scorched the scoreboard for five goals in a span of just 3:46 as UNC seized a 6-2 lead at 10:11 of the period. It was fast break and unsettled goals, which set the table for UNC in that run.
Holman scored off a bounce-pass assist by McBride on a fast break at 13:57 to tie the game at 2-2. Moments later, Ryan Creighton scored after another successful clear as Tutton fed him on the play at 12:33 to give the Heels a lead they never relinquished.
Davey Emala then scored on a rebound at 11:35 after Poillon made an initial save on a shot by Tutton. The next Tar Heel goal epitomized the whole game. UNC won the face-off but R.G. Keenan turned the ball over. UNC did not give up on the play, however, and Joey Sankey emerged from the scrum with the ground ball. Sankey sent a long crossfield pass to McBride who buried a low shot from 15 yards out.
Carolina's next goal came with a flag down on the field for a delayed penalty against the Mountain Hawks as Spencer Parks finished off an assist by Jimmy Bitter and UNC was up 6-2 with 10:11 left before halftime. The Mountain Hawks answered with a pair of goals less than two minutes apart with Corbett notching his second goal and then Dante Fantoni scoring unassisted. But Walker Chafee scored an extra-man goal with 1:29 left in the half to put the Heels up by three at the break. Holman earned the assist on the play after Dylan O'Shaughnessy was whistled for interference.
UNC's Jordan Smith was called for pushing with 18 seconds left in the second quarter, giving Lehigh an EMO that carried over to the second half. The Mountain Hawks scored an extra-man goal nine seconds into the second half as Kyle Stiefel claimed a ground ball and finished with high heat from the outside. But Carolina again answered the call and quickly rebuilt a two-goal edge.
Steve Pontrello lasered one past Poillon a little over a minute later to restore a three-goal lead as he took a pass from Holman from behind the cage and fired from 12 yards out front for the finish. Then the Tar Heels got a key goal at 6:56 as Pontrello then won a wild battle for a ground ball near midfield and with everyone in scramble mode, Sankey fed Tutton for a brilliant putaway in an unsettled situation. Lehigh got one back as DiMaria registered his second unassisted goal but Carolina regained momentum with Bitter's second tally of the game off an assist by Sankey with 56 seconds left before the end of the period. It was the first of three timer-on goals by Carolina in the final 16 minutes of the match.
The fourth quarter was all Carolina. Keenan set the table with a face-off win and a man-down goal five seconds into the period. It was the fifth goal of the season for Keenan and his third goal in the past two games. Pontrello matched his career high for goals in a game at 9:53, notching his second while being assisted by fellow freshman Jake Matthai on a textbook fast break. Lehigh cut the UNC lead back to five goals on a transition tally by Klay Heston at 8:42 but the Heels responded with a four-goal run to end the match.
Mike Noone was sent off for unnecessary roughness at 6:20 of the fourth quarter. After Tutton hit the post, Davey Emala's shot was stopped by Poillon. Eventually, Chad Tutton dodged his defender and finished past Poillon one-on-one at 5:23 for a man-up tally. The teams exchanged turnovers before Jimmy Bitter finished his hat-trick with a timer-on goal at 4:08. Patrick Kelly scored for the Tar Heels at 3:09 before Carolina finished with scoring with a timer-on goal by Tutton, assisted by Holman, with 1:07 left in the game.
- The nine-goal margin of victory was the most by UNC in an NCAA Tournament game since it beat Harvard 18-3 in the NCAA quarterfinals on May 20, 1990.
- Carolina improved to 16-5 all-time in NCAA Tournament games in Chapel Hill.
- UNC is now 7-2-1 all-time against Lehigh.
- Marcus Holman's five points improved his school career record total to 212.
- Marcus Holman has 121 career goals, seven shy of Bert Fett's school record 128 (1972-75).
- Holman added four assists to his total. He now has 91, third in UNC history behind Bruce Ledwith (119) and Michael Burnett (106)
- Carolina now has three 30-goal scorers on the season with Holman (37), Joey Sankey (34) and Jimmy Bitter (32).
- UNC also has three players with 50 or more points - Holman (79), Sankey (53) and Bitter (51)
- Kieran Burke's 189 saves equal the eighth most in a season in UNC history.
- R.G. Keenan's 193 face-off wins are the fifth most in a single season in Carolina history.
- R.G. Keenan's 109 ground balls equal the sixth most in a season in Carolina history.
- Chad Tutton's 27 goals are the most by a UNC midfielder since Sean DeLaney tallied 35 goals in 2009.
- Carolina has won 10 matches in a row. The last time UNC won 10 in a row was at the start of the 2010 season.
- Marcus Holman has recorded points in 31 straight games. He has assists in 12 straight games. He has scored goals in 30 of the past 31 games.
- Jimmy Bitter has scored goals in 10 straight games. He has scored in 21 of the past 22 games and has points in 26 successive contests.
- Joey Sankey has points in 20 straight matches.
- Chad Tutton has a point in 25 of the past 26 games. He has scored goals in 12 straight games and has tallied goals in 24 of the past 25 games.
- Chad Tutton and Jimmy Bitter both recorded their eighth career hat tricks against the Mountain Hawks.
- Jimmy Bitter's 59 career goals are the most by a sophomore in UNC history.
- Ryan Creighton's 11 goals are the most by a short-stick defensive midfielder in Tar Heel history.
- Marcus Holman's 79 points are two shy of the school record of 81 set by Bruce Ledwith in 1973.
- Holman's 42 assists are the third most in a season in UNC history.
- Steve Pontrello matched his career high with two goals. He has had back-to-back two-goal games.
- Chad Tutton has recorded hat tricks in three straight games and in four of the past five games.