Burke, Tar Heels Hand Virginia Fifth Straight Loss
|North Carolina freshman goalie
Kieran Burke made 23 saves, the most by a UNC goalkeeper since
2003. Virginia shot 7-for-51 as it lost its fifth straight
© John Strohsacker
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Staring down a freshman goalkeeper, the Virginia offense smelled blood in the water and was looking for a breakout performance in Saturday's tilt with North Carolina. Freshman Kieran Burke stood between the pipes for the Tar Heels, and the Cavaliers saw this as opportunity to end their offensive woes.
Unfortunately for Virginia, Burke delivered a memorable 23-save performance in fourth-ranked North Carolina's 10-7 win over No. 18 Virginia at Klockner Stadium.
Virginia outshot UNC by 19, but Burke's impressive play in the goal gave the Tar Heels the advantage they needed. The New York native's 23 stops were the most saves by a North Carolina goalkeeper since Paul Spellman's 25 saves in a win over Maryland back on March 22, 2003. Burke's total was the fourth highest total by an NCAA Division I men's goalkeeper this year.
"I just really saw the ball well," Burke said. "I just got into a groove. Once you get into a groove its hard to get out of. We had great communication today on defense. When the team communicates defensively, we play our best."
North Carolina coach Joe Breschi praised Burke's effort.
"He was tremendous, there is no question about it," Breschi said. "I don't think there is a weakness in his game. He just needs to stay focused from week to week.
After starting the season 3-3 and 0-1 in the ACC, the Tar Heels have reeled off five consecutive wins, and have clinched at least a share of first place in the ACC.
Young Carolina defenders stepping up would be a theme of the day, as freshman Evan Connell was given the tough assignment of guarding Virginia senior Mark Cockerton. Cockerton led Virginia with three goals, but he had to fight for every inch of space thanks to the relentless pressure from Connell.
The North Carolina defense faced questions during an up and down start to the season, but have since become one of the team's strengths.
"They've really come together nicely," Breschi said. "We know we need to bring the workman-like effort every time we step on the field. When we were struggling everyone was looking at what team we were going to have. But now we're 8-3. I'm really proud of our guys for how they stuck with it and played through it."
The Cavaliers fell behind early. Marcus Holman scored two of his game-high three goals in the game's opening minutes to help UNC grab an early 4-0 lead. Holman has now scored in 26 straight games for the Tar Heels.
UVA closed the first frame on a 3-0 run and trailed by one goal for much of the second quarter. However, the Carolina offense delivered a backbreaker right before halftime as Chad Tutton found Holman right in front of the net, and Holman cashed in just two seconds before intermission.
North Carolina rode the momentum of its defense and built an 8-4 lead late in the third quarter. The Tar Heels were incredibly efficient with the ball, with deliberate passes and calculated shot attempts. North Carolina made the most of its shooting opportunities, as 22 of their 32 shot attempts were on cage.
"We're not a team that takes a lot of bad shots," Breschi said. "We look for the best shot and not just the first one. That attack causes matchup problems down there."
Joe Sankey and Jimmy Bitter each scored two goals to bring their careers totals to 50 and 48 respectively.
While the North Carolina offense was on point for the most part, the Cavaliers once again struggled with their shot selection. One week after shooting 17 percent against Maryland, Virginia shot an abysmal 13 percent, converting only only seven of the team's 51 attempts.
"We have to improve the selection of our shots and quality of the shots that we're making," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "I thought that we had a lot of good opportunities and we either didn't make a good shot when we had to, or [Burke] made a few really nice stops."
In addition to Cockerton's three goals, Nick O'Reilly had a strong outing with two goals and one assist.
Faceoffs were a positive for Virginia as the Cavaliers held a 15-5 advantage in that category.
While the Tar Heels have won five games in row, the Cavaliers have dropped five straight for the first time since 1966.
The latest setback pushed Virginia's record to below .500 for the first time this season. Virginia will conclude ACC play on Friday night in Durham against Duke. The Blue Devils have owned this series in recent years, winning 12 of the last 13 meetings.
A fiery Starsia could be heard shouting to his team "It starts with Duke!" in the postgame huddle. Starsia is choosing not to worry about his team's NCAA tournament chances right now, but instead take things one day at a time.
"I don't think they need to concern themselves with [the NCAA Tournament]," Starsia said. "My job is to help them break this down into smaller chunks and lets just focus on getting better on Monday and the big picture stuff will take care of itself."