Blue Devils, Tar Heels fall short in ACC men’s lacrosse

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Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

Peter Koutroumpis –

CHESTER, PA. – Even while the second-ranked Duke Blue Devils and the sixth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels didn’t contend for the 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Men’s Lacrosse Championship, their absence from the final game won’t count them out of seriously contending for the NCAA title.

The 10th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers scored the game’s final three goals and defeated the defending ACC-champion Tar Heels, 13-11, in the ACC Showcase game played at PPL Park on Saturday.

On Friday, the defending NCAA-champion Blue Devils suffered a heartbreaking 16-15 final-seconds tournament semi-final loss to the fourth-ranked Syracuse Orange.

It was unusual for either Duke or North Carolina not to be contending for the ACC title.

In fact, it was the first time since 2006 that such an occurrence had taken place.

There was a changing of the guard as conference newcomers Notre Dame and Syracuse took their place in the tournament championship game which the Fighting Irish claimed on Sunday, beating the Orange 15-14.

For the Blue Devils (12-3) and Tar Heels (10-4), it turned out to be Syracuse that denied them both the opportunity to play for the championship trophy.

The Orange avenged an earlier 21-7 loss to the Blue Devils with their unprecedented comeback and denied Duke playing in the conference championship for the second straight year.

The Blue Devils last played in the championship game in 2012, when they defeated the Tar Heels 12-9 and raised the conference hardware.

For North Carolina, losing 11-10 in overtime at the Carrier Dome two weeks ago bumped them from taking the fourth spot in the league standings and the opportunity to defend their hard-earned championship from a year ago – one that took 17 years to regain.

Though both losses won’t deny Duke or North Carolina a spot in the NCAA postseason, they do make the week leading up to the playoff selection show more dramatic for fans and media alike as they anticipate how the final field will shake out.

They are the only two teams in the country to be seeded in the Top 8 and host NCAA Tournament first-round games in each of the last seven seasons.

While losing again in the ACC Tournament, it will not prevent the Blue Devils from working to make an eighth straight trip to Final Four weekend and winning the NCAA championship again.

In fact, the two years that they didn’t make the ACC championship game in 2010 and 2013, they won the bigger title and hoisted the NCAA trophy instead.

For North Carolina, suffering another loss late in the season, now having lost two of their last three, once again raises questions of whether the Tar Heels are capable of making a run at a national championship.

They haven’t won one since 1991.

While making the postseason for the eighth straight season, the Tar Heels will be challenged to string together the wins needed to make it to the Final Four..

And if they do, there is a high likelihood that they will meet at least one of Duke, Syracuse or Notre Dame along the way – all three of whom North Carolina suffered one-goal losses to this season.

Regardless, 20 teams will get a chance to make a run at winning the national championship, and if Duke or North Carolina manages to be the successful team to do it, then missing out on playing for the conference championship will not have been that bad a loss to have suffered after all.