March 30, 2013

Keenan's OT Strike Seals it; Tar Heels Down Blue Jays

by Henry Gargan | LaxMagazine.com | Live Blog Replay

R.G. Keenan won the overtime faceoff and scored six seconds into the extra period to give North Carolina a hard-fought 11-10 win over visiting Johns Hopkins.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — As he walked to midfield for the faceoff that would begin the overtime period of No. 6 North Carolina's 11-10 win against No 8 Johns Hopkins, UNC's R.G. Keenan had won just 10 of the day's 23 draws.

"It was tough keeping confidence," Keenan said. "I was struggling there for a while in the second and third quarter, but coach told me to get back to what you do, and don't take 'no' for an answer."

He didn't. Keenan quickly scooped the ball at the start of OT and made a beeline for the cage. The Johns Hopkins defense elected to hold its ground instead of sliding to stop Keenan. If they did, that would have left All-American Marcus Holman wide open.

"It's better to let me shoot and probably miss it, to be honest," Keenan said. "They held on Mark and let me run right down the middle."

Keenan made the Blue Jays pay for their gamble as he slotted the ball right between goalkeeper Pierce Bassett's legs for the game winner. A dogpile ensued on the field.

Despite having played Maryland and Brown in last seven days, the Tar Heels managed to keep their legs and their wits about them as they weathered a persistent Johns Hopkins attack late in the game. UNC improved to 7-3 on the season, while the Blue Jays fell to 6-3.

"We told the guys it's going to be a mental preparation week, and the guys responded to that," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "We said, that physically, we can't beat you up this week because we've had three games, but we need to continue to stay the course and stick to the game plan."

The Tar Heels led early, taking a quick 4-1 lead and holding on to it during a lower-scoring second quarter. North Carolina held a 5-3 advantage at halftime. Holman and Davey Emala notched two goals apiece before the break.

Kieran Burke, UNC's freshman goalkeeper, made 10 saves in the opening two quarters, which opened up transition scoring opportunities for the Tar Heels.

"Something the coaches have been stressing this year is playing as one full team," said Emala, who, like Holman, ended the game with a hat trick. "It's not just the attack going out there scoring goals, it's not just Keenan going out there and winning faceoffs, it's not just the defense — it's a full team effort."

But a tough and athletic Johns Hopkins offense settled down and held possession around the UNC cage for protracted stretches, at times succeeding in putting the young Tar Heel defense to sleep.

When the Blue Jays drew level at nine apiece, and then went ahead at 10-9, UNC called timeout. Zach Palmer and John Greeley were finding ways to score from long-range despite UNC's best efforts to keep them off the crease.

With four minutes remaining and Johns Hopkins continuing to win faceoffs, keeping the ball long enough to force overtime was a real concern for the Tar Heels. But it was at that point that the week's mental preparation came to fruition for Breschi's team.

"I'm really proud of how the defense buckled down," Breschi said. "There was a sense of urgency but no sense of panic. You looked in their eyes and they knew that as long as they stuck with the game plan things would be okay."

With two minutes to go, UNC finally got possession back after an errant shot sailed well over the cage. Chad Tutton found Emala in front of the goal just outside the crease, and the transfer senior scored.

Johns Hopkins got the ball back with a minute and a half to play, but couldn't get a shot on cage.

"We wanted to be aggressive, but at a certain point, then, you want to hold for the last shot," Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said. "And you don't want to give them an opportunity to come down in transition, because they had done that earlier."

But in front of a crowd of 5,900 including almost 200 alumni in North Carolina's Kenan Stadium, R.G. Keenan would not allow his team's complete game performance to go to waste.

"It was easy to get up for the game, but to emotionally and physically stay the course for 60 minutes and make plays when we needed to [was difficult]," Breschi said. "The best thing is looking in their eyes and knowing there is no doubt that we were going to fight and compete and win the game."


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