April 10, 2010

Who's No. 1?: Hoos End the Debate

by Steve Russolillo | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

UNC's Billy Bitter had two first-half goals, but was scoreless and suffering an injury in the second quarter.

© Kevin P. Tucker

LIVE BLOG FROM BIG CITY CLASSIC

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.--It had offensive shootout written all over it.

No. 1 vs No. 2. Prolific scorers and high-powered offenses on both sides of the field. The unveiling of the $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium. The energy vibrating from the largest crowd ever to witness a regular season lacrosse game. All signs pointed to a shootout, right?

Wrong. Scoring droughts and tight defense took center stage on Saturday as No. 1 Virginia narrowly squeezed by second-ranked North Carolina 7-5 in front of 25,710 fans in the middle game of the Big City Classic.  

Virginia (11-0, 2-0 ACC) jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, holding North Carolina scoreless for the first 19 minutes of the game. But just when the game looked like it would turn into a route, North Carolina came marching back.

The Tar Heels, who came into Saturday’s game boasting the No. 1 defense in the nation, shut down Virginia’s attack, holding the Cavaliers scoreless for more than 23 minutes spanning the second and third quarters. In that timeframe, the Tar Heels chipped away, scoring four goals and pulling within 5-4. But North Carolina could never tie the score and after trading goals in the fourth quarter, Virginia prevailed.

“We battled for 60 minutes,” said Virginia head coach Dom Starsia. “Some days there’s not a lot of magic happening, but you just gotta fight it out. It was a good victory over a quality team.”

Sophomore attack Steele Stanwick proved to be an offensive catalyst for Virginia. He registered three goals, including a nifty no-look shot in the second quarter that could be worthy of a top-10 nominee on SportsCenter. As he was falling to the ground, he flipped the ball over his head and it sailed beyond North Carolina goalie Chris Madalon to give the Cavs a 5-0 lead.

“I had some idea where the goal was,” Stanwick said at the press conference after the game. Even Starsia added a wise crack “If the ball goes in, he’s a hero,” Starsia said. “It was one of those ‘No, no no…yes.’”

But the true difference maker appeared to be junior goalkeeper Adam Ghitelman, who registered 12 saves, including five in the fourth quarter.

“A game like this, there was just not much margin of error out there,” Starsia said. “We needed every save he had.

“Every game when you ask me what the key is, I hate to sound monotonous but I always say its winning faceoffs and goal play. We needed Adam to do what he did today in order to have a chance to win this game.”

As for North Carolina (10-1, 2-1), it can take solace in the fact that it had a chance to topple the top-ranked team in the nation. The Tar Heels weren’t playing at full strength and looked a bit discombobulated on offense, which wasn’t surprising because they were playing without Thomas Wood and Sean Delaney, two of their three leading scorers who were both out with injuries.

The news got worse when junior attack Billy Bitter was injured toward the end of the second quarter after an illegal body check. He still registered two goals. But both came in the first half before the injury. And although he returned to action after halftime, he was held scoreless in the second half.
 
“To come out here and play a 7-5, scrappy game with a couple guys banged up, I’m so proud of them,” said North Carolina head coach Joe Breschi.


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