Sweet return for Bitter in UNC men's lacrosse win
Coach Joe Breschi said it wasn’t like junior Jimmy Bitter to be nervous before a game.
But when the whistle to start the No. 3 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team’s 21-5 win against Manhattan sounded, Bitter self-admittedly was.
The preseason honorable mention All-American was held out of fall ball and limited for much of the preseason due to a right knee injury he’d been nursing.
And when he finally got the chance to play competitively, he was anxious — even though he knew his team had Manhattan severely outmatched.
“Having Jimmy back just changes our offense tremendously,” fellow attackman Joey Sankey said.
“When he gets the ball, the entire defense is looking at him. That really opens up opportunities for everyone else.”
And the nerves didn’t go away early on for Bitter, when he took his first shot of the game.
Bitter was perfectly positioned at about a 45-degree angle relative to the cage on the right side with his dominant left hand open.
He was in his spot.
And as he wound up for one of his typical under-armed rifles that usually nestles itself nicely into one of the upper corners of the net, something was a little off.
Instead of pinging a corner, Bitter dinked his shot off the goal pipe and didn’t score.
He was about an inch away.
Bitter’s next two shots followed the same trend.
Perfectly positioned in his sweet spot, he repeatedly rocketed shots off the pipe in a similar fashion.
“I didn’t know if I was going to score all year,” Bitter said.
“I’ve never had that in a game, three pipes in a row.”
But eventually, he did.
With 7:11 left in the first quarter, Bitter was found hanging around the crease by sophomore Spencer Parks for the first and only goal of his season-opening performance.
From then on, though the junior’s shot wasn’t quite on target — he was 1-9 on the day — he seemed significantly more comfortable.
Although Bitter’s dismal 11 percent shooting average on the day paled in comparison to last season’s 28 percent mark, it didn’t matter as much.
Liberally making hard cuts around defenders on his previously injured knee, Bitter swam over, dodged past, rocked by and rolled around the Jaspers to draw double teams and tally a pair of assists to fellow attackman Pat Foster.
He was playing fast. The nerves were gone.
“You could see his speed of play was up to task, and he did a good job,” Breschi said.
“But for him in particular to get through the game and feel good and feel healthy is a huge bonus.”
It wasn’t Bitter’s highly-touted lefty rip, which helped him produce 32 goals last season, that was working for him.
It was his quick feet, and more importantly stable knees, that he used in an attempt to prove that he’ll be at full strength when the Tar Heels need him this season.
“Jim is Jim,” Breschi said.
“He does some things that you’re wowed about.
“And then he does some silly things — but it’s just who Jim is.”