Billy Bitter didn’t resemble an All-American at all Tuesday night.
North Carolina’s star junior lacrosse player looked frustrated, confused and indecisive against Princeton.
The Tigers switched defensive sets throughout the game and kept an eye on Bitter at all times. Princeton’s man-to-man defense held him in check, but its zone was the true catalyst to Bitter’s 57-minute identity crisis.
“That’s one way to try and neutralize Billy a little bit, to play some zone, because then there’s six guys playing him instead of one,” head coach Joe Breschi said.
It’s hard to be Bitter, especially with all the extra attention he gets from defenses, but it’s even harder to beat him.
When UNC needed last year’s leading goal-scorer the most, it simply put in the request.
“Coach (Pat) Myers came to me in the fourth quarter and tells me he needs me and the team needs me,” Bitter said.
The Tigers had stormed back to score five straight goals and tied the game at 10 with 4:46 left in regulation, but one minute later, Bitter had possession behind the net.
He looked for an opening before exploding to his right.
Bitter scrambled around the back of the net, already eyeing his shot. He knew where he was going and so did the defense, but Bitter was too quick this time.
“Well, he’s so quick,” Breschi said. “I think that’s what separates him from most. … You’ve got to stay on him until he gets rid of the ball, and I think he’s so quick in his change of direction that he loses some defensemen.”
Bitter turned the sharp corner behind the net, protected his stick and got under his defenseman to deliver the dagger: the go-ahead goal with 3 minutes left.
And he wasn’t done yet. After a jostle for the face-off, Princeton sophomore John Cunningham came away with the ball in pursuit of his own tying goal.
Bitter wasn’t going to let anyone ruin his opus. He chased Cunningham down, raised his stick and swatted the ball out, leading to a turnover and another UNC possession.
“Billy’s always got a big play in him somewhere, and thank God he had another one up his sleeve tonight,” senior Gavin Petracca said. “He fights every single second of every play of every game.”
While Bitter recorded two assists before his goal, it just wasn’t until the final three minutes that he showed his true identity.
“It’s really just great being on his team,” Petracca said.
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