No. 4 Tar Heels hold off No. 9 Johns Hopkins

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Chris Baird - TSN via Baird Photography
Chris Baird – TSN via Baird Photography

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The fourth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels came up with a 13-11 victory over the ninth-ranked Johns Hopkins Blue Jays at Navy Field on Saturday.

Having moved the game from the Tar Heels’ regular grass surface at Fetzer Field due to snow and ice accumulation, a sizeable crowd of 1,114 still showed up to stand along the sidelines to take in the 44th game between the storied NCAA lacrosse programs.

“I think overall it was a great lacrosse game,” North Carolina head coach Joe Breschi said.

With additional spectators peering in amongst the tree line outside the fence, it was a milestone day for UNC attackmen Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey as both surpassed the 100 career-goal mark, scoring four and three goals respectively.

“It’s definitely a cool experience to get to a hundred,” Bitter said.

“It’s definitely an honor. It’s hard to get to a hundred goals and I think Joey and I both worked hard – it wasn’t easy.”

Luke Goldstock added a hat trick of his own with the help of his two teammates while Chad Tutton, Brent Armstrong, and Michael Tagliaferri added singles to round out the scoring for North Carolina (4-0).

In goal, starter Brian Balkam earned his fourth win of the season, making five saves and allowing only three goals in 30 minutes, while Kieran Burke made four saves and allowed eight goals during the final half of play.

For Burke, it was only the second and third quarters he’d played all season since recovering from surgery to remove his wisdom teeth.

He came into the game at a time when Hopkins was desperate to pull closer after trailing North Carolina 7-3 at halftime.

Led by Ryan Brown, who finished with three goals and three assists, the Blue Jays (2-2) put together a three-goal run that cut the Tar Heels lead to one with 7:34 to play in the third.

“I think it was some lapses for sure,” UNC defender Jake Bailey said of the Tar Heels’ defensive play early in the quarter.

“We didn’t seem to settle down. We got a little too excited and the excitement led to givin’ up a couple of goals.”

Goldstock then initiated a 5-1 run by the Tar Heels that got them ahead 12-7 early in the final quarter.

Brown helped spur another charge as additional help from Shack Stanwick and John Crawley, who added a pair of goals each in the game, helped to fuel the Hopkins offense while goalkeeper Eric Schneider held up his end with an eight-save performance on the day.

The Blue Jays came to within two goals with 2:45 remaining, and eventually held the margin in many statistical categories including shots on goal (42-38), ground balls (38-33), and faceoffs won (15-27).

They finished with an effective 3-of-8 conversion rate with EMO’s, but it was costly turnovers late in the game that denied them the opportunity to get any closer to the Tar Heels.

“They’re a very good team and the bottom line today was we made a few too many mistakes,” Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala said.

“When we made them, they’re such a good team, they can punish you for them.”

While keeping an undefeated record early in the season and holding off a top-10 opponent, North Carolina will now prepare to face the top-ranked team in the country, the Denver Pioneers, when they come to town on Friday.

Knowing this, North Carolina will look back on the areas that the Blue Jays exposed them in to prepare accordingly.

“There’s a lot for us to improve on coming out of this,” Breschi said.

“‘When we got out of sorts a little bit, they took advantage of it. They’re a terrific offensive team.”

“We played a lot of defense,” Breschi continued.

“Being man-down eight times, you’re gonna’ do that. But at the end of the day, I think we made enough plays. We tried to make some adjustments on the fly, but certainly things to improve on.”

Notes: During a particularly cold week, the Tar Heels had to practice indoors on Astroturf for a few days and were limited in how hard they could run and practice their sets outdoors. According to Bitter, when they finally made it outside late on Wednesday, they did so in record-setting low temperatures hovering around six-degrees …With two notable former players and now coaches – North Carolina’s Breschi and Johns Hopkins’ Pietramala – leading their alma maters against one another since the two teams first faced each other back at Homewood field in 1977, the Blue Jays hold the advantage in the overall series record (24-19), but the Tar Heels (4-0) have won eight of the last nine meetings, including Saturday’s game…North Carolina didn’t have Steve Pontrello nor Shane Simpson in the lineup again while Johns Hopkins lost defenseman Rob Enright due to an apparent right knee injury suffered during the course of the game.