NCAA Lacrosse 2014: Tar Heels end season with 9-5 loss to Denver

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

Peter Koutroumpis –

DENVER, CO. – The unseeded North Carolina Tar Heels couldn’t do it.

They couldn’t beat the fifth-seeded Denver Pioneers, losing 9-5 at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium on Saturday and exited the 2014 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship Tournament in the first round.

The Pioneers moved on to the quarterfinals and extended their win streak to 12 games while beating the Tar Heels for the third time in NCAA postseason play.

Jack Bobzien’s four-point night (1 goal, 3 assists) along with Zach Miller (2 goals, 1 assist) and Erik Adamson (2 goals) did most of the damage offensively for the Pioneers.

Defensively, goalkeepers Ryan LaPlante and Jamie Faus platooned to make three saves apiece to earn the win, keeping North Carolina attackman Joey Sankey (2 goals) and the rest of the Tar Heels offense – Steve Pontrello, Jimmy Bitter, and Chad Tutton, who all added singles – at bay long enough to earn the win.

Tar Heels goalkeeper Kieran Burke made 11 saves and kept his team as close as he could in the losing effort.

“I credit them (Denver) for playing very well,” North Carolina head coach Joe Breschi said afterwards.

“We got ourselves in the penalty box a lot. That cost us possessions. They were very patient offensively. I think they did a nice job of being patient, waiting for the best opportunity, not the first. We had a couple of opportunities early but we didn’t can them. We struggled on man-up and didn’t can the opportunities we had. I thought the second half played better.”

The game was billed as a battle of top-10 teams as the Pioneers (15-2) came into the game ranked second in the country facing off against the ninth-ranked Tar Heels (10-5), a team that they had seen a lot of over the past three seasons.

After being off for two weeks following a loss to Virginia in the ACC Showcase, it seemed that the Tar Heels could not establish an effective offensive pace to their game early on.

“I would say we were a little anxious when we came in – all hyped up,” Breschi said.

“We talked about it after the first quarter, about staying patient and playing a lot of defense. The first quarter, (down) 2-to-1, they outshot us and out-groundballed us in particular. We were out of sorts early, but after that I thought we settled down, did a decent job, but we couldn’t can those opportunities that we had in the second quarter.”

Trailing 5-1 at halftime, Sankey tried to energize his team, narrowing the deficit to 5-3 with 10:39 remaining in the third quarter.

However, Denver reestablished its four-goal distance, leading 7-3, and never relinquished it as both teams scored two goals apiece during the final quarter.

“They did a nice job of packin’ it in and their goalie made a couple of nice saves,” Breschi continued.

“Again, we didn’t have a lot of possessions…I thought we were a little overanxious to make something happen quickly.”

North Carolina simply could not stage a comeback in a game in which they trailed throughout and were constantly reaching in attempts to catch up.

Before Saturday, they had lost their previous four games on the season by only five goals combined.

Ending the year sooner than they would have liked, the Tar Heels suffered their largest defeat of the season and lost their third game in their last four games played.

“There’s only one team that’s happy at the end of the season,” Breschi said.

“We’re gonna’ take a look back and see all the things that we were able to accomplish and the games that we had and see how we can get better in the future. Certainly from a senior standpoint, there’s a group of 12 guys that had a solid career and thank them for all they’ve done for the program. We’ll evaluate how we can get better and move forward in the future.”