Cloutier leads Tar Heels into NCAA men’s lacrosse final

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

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PHILADELPHIA, PA. – Attackman Chris Cloutier scored nine goals to lead the North Carolina Tar Heels into the 2016 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship final following an18-13 win over the seventh-seeded Loyola Greyhounds at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday.

A fast start ignited by Cloutier’s prowess in finding time and space inside the Greyhounds’ defensive set allowed the Tar Heels to build up a 9-2 lead after the opening quarter.

“First and foremost so proud of our team the way we came out – we had terrific energy,” North Carolina head coach Joe Breschi said.

“These guys just shared the ball at the offensive end. Chris Cloutier had a stellar day obviously, but it was his teammates that allowed him to have the day he did.”

Cloutier eventually reached the triple hat-trick plateau and set a career high, established a UNC school record for goals in a game while matching the overall NCAA Tournament record.

“We were running our offense to a T,” Cloutier said.

“And luckily I was just getting open and getting open shots that I was able to put in the back of the net.”

Tar Heels’ leading scorer Steve Pontrello posted two goals and three assists to lead the rest of the seven-player scoring output that overwhelmed Loyola goalkeepers Jacob Stover (2 saves) and Grant Limone (7 saves) who allowed nine goals apiece.

Stephen Kelly won 19-of-35 face-offs to allow North Carolina to win the ground ball game by a 29-24 margin while goalkeeper Brian Balkam made seven stops in the winning effort.

The Tar Heels defense finished with eight caused turnovers and kept the Greyhounds shooters on the outside looking in for most of the game.

Tyler Albrecht led (3 goals, 1 assist) and Zach Herreweyers (3 goals) led a Loyola offense that fell short of making a successful comeback from a deficit that ballooned to as high as 10 goals.

Leading 14-5 at halftime, the Tar Heels endured an 8-4 scoring burst from the Greyhounds during the final two quarters, and earned a spot in the NCAA title game for the first time since 1993.

Unseeded North Carolina will face off against the top-seeded Maryland Terrapins on Monday for the chance to win its first national championship since 1991.

The Terrapins, seeking their first title since 1975, advanced as 15-14 overtime winners over the fifth-seeded Brown Bears in the other national semifinal match-up of the day.

“We have tremendous confidence,” Pontrello said.

“We believe in one another. Not many people thought we had a shot today or even get to the Final Four. But this team is special.”