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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's lacrosse wins thriller in final home game of season

UNC men's lacrosse defeated Virginia Saturday 11-10 at Fetzer Field.
UNC men's lacrosse defeated Virginia Saturday 11-10 at Fetzer Field.

But what they witnessed instead was a race. A neck-and-neck dead sprint, in fact, defined by tit-for-tat transition goals and five lead changes.

A goal from R.G. Keenan with 2:28 left gave UNC the final 11-10 advantage and the Tar Heels emerged victorious from the 60-minute heat, finally able to catch their breaths.

“That was definitely one of the most mentally tough games I’ve been in in a while,” said junior attackman Joey Sankey.

As soon as Keenan and UVa. junior Mick Parks took their starting positions at the X for the first face-off, both sides bolted at one another with high intensity and a sense of urgency.

UNC struck first, two minutes into the match, with a goal from Steve Pontrello. UVa. equalized at the 7:03 mark, but goals from Sankey and Jimmy Bitter rounded out the first period in UNC’s favor.

Virginia forced the Tar Heels to chase its offense in the second period, disrupting UNC’s typical run-and-gun style of play and outscoring them 4-2 in the second period. Neither team seemed able to find a rhythm in the match’s back-and-forth frenzy.

“Ground balls was the No. 1 key and key No. 2 was to stop transition,” said coach Joe Breschi. “Three of their first five goals by half were in transition, some sort of transition ... They’re good at it, we’re good at it.”

UNC’s Achilles’ heel in defending UVa.’s full-field acceleration was senior attackman Mark Cockerton. In the third period, Cockerton assisted the goal that gave Virginia the lead coming out of halftime and later added a personal equalizer — his third tally of the day.

“He’s one of the best attackmen in the ACC,” said sophomore goalkeeper Kieran Burke. “Lefty, Canadian. He’s really shifty left and right. It’s difficult, but we limited him — he could’ve had six (goals).”

As the third period ticked away, UVa. was penalized for tripping and Walker Chafee capitalized on the game’s only man-up opportunity to propel North Carolina into the fourth period with a 9-8 lead.

But Cockerton was lethal again, scoring his fourth goal with 7:24 left.

UVa. struck four minutes later in what appeared to be the game-winner, but the Tar Heels picked up the pace down the final stretch. Pontrello and Keenan netted back-to-back to shots, and Burke swatted away multiple close-call attempts. For the first time all game, UVa. had run out of steam.

“We got nervous at times but honestly ... we just stay composed and keep grinding and get after it,” said Burke. “It’s just composure, sticking to the game plan. That’s really it. That’s what we live by and die by.”

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