The North Carolina freshman midfielder nonchalantly turned to send a pass in that direction, but it wasn't until the ball was leaving his stick and sailing harmlessly out of bounds that he realized his mistake.
That was a referee standing over there.
Effectively squandering a two-men-up opportunity, it was a mental lapse that typified the afternoon for the youthful Tar Heel men's lacrosse team in its 10-9 loss to second-ranked Virginia in front of 2,185 at Fetzer Field on Saturday.
The No. 7 Tar Heels (6-3, 1-2 in the ACC) struggled horribly to maintain possession for much of the day, at times looking lost on even routine passes en route to botching 10 clear attempts.
"This was a big game, so I think we started off a little jittery," said freshman attackman Jed Prossner, who scored a game-high three goals and added an assist. "Then we settled down and started playing our game. But just a few mistakes cost us the game.
"We can't have those in future games."
Despite rallying three times after facing deficits of 3-0, 7-3 and 10-6, UNC's little miscues throughout the contest added up to its third consecutive loss, all of them coming against top-five teams.
Saturday's game came a week after a 12-11 loss at then-No. 3 Johns Hopkins and two weeks after a 7-5 defeat against then-No. 5 Maryland. With a win against the Cavaliers (7-1, 2-0), the Tar Heels would have earned the ACC's regular season title and their first winning conference season since 1996.
Instead, they recorded loss No. 21 in their past 24 ACC games and now must tighten up their play with the conference tournament looming in two weeks.
"The last thing we can do now is hang our heads," said UNC coach John Haus. "We just have to keep battling. And until we beat one of the teams that we've been losing to, we're going to be in the bottom half of the teams in the country. We've got to beat somebody."
For a while, it looked like somebody might just have been the Cavaliers.
For the second straight game, UNC fell into an early hole as UVa. ran off the game's opening three goals. But goals from Prossner and freshman attackman Mike McCall cut the deficit to 3-2 with 7:18 to go in the first half.
The Cavs stretched their lead to 7-3 after holding UNC scoreless in the second quarter and rattling off three of their own goals, two of them after Will's errant pass.
But the Tar Heels charged back, running off three consecutive goals to start the second half and slicing the deficit to 7-6 with 2:46 left in the third quarter. Virginia, however, then scored three times in 58 seconds.
But in familiar fashion, UNC still had one more comeback left in it.
McCall scored on a feed from midfielder Austin Garrison with two seconds left in the third quarter and then found Prossner on the break nine seconds into the final quarter. With 4:07 left in the game, midfielder Pat Jackson converted a Kyle Bell pass to cut the lead to 10-9, but that's as close as UNC would get.
Taking advantage of an unusually passive UNC defense, the Cavs nearly ran off the last two minutes of the game until UNC finally stripped the ball and gained possession with 22 seconds left. But Bryant Will's pass to his brother Steve on the right edge of the crease, seconds before time expired, was about a half-foot too high.
The hardest thing about dealing with a one-goal loss?
"The what-ifs," said UNC goalkeeper Paul Spellman, who had 12 saves, several at point-blank range. "What if we had a pass here, a pass there, a shot that really would have meant a lot? There's so many things that you can attribute a loss to."
Things that the Tar Heels need to fine-tune promptly if they're going to finally beat "somebody" this season.
The Sports Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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