It may have been playing the same opponent, but nothing in No. 2 North Carolina’s ACC semi-final match-up against Syracuse resembled its fast-paced, high-scoring regular season win.
Coming off a one-goal loss against No. 1 Notre Dame, the Tar Heels (12-3) looked to repeat their victory against the No. 4 Orange (10-2) Friday, but they missed the mark, falling 9-8.
Only two weeks ago UNC shot out to a 5-0 lead, one they would not give up, as the North Carolina defense put on a valiant effort to thwart a hungry Syracuse comeback attempt.
This time was different, though.
“I thought the defense started off kind of slow,” said junior goalkeeper Kieran Burke. “But they got back, settled in, and played well. We had to come in and play a hard, full game, but we caught a tough break.”
Syracuse got out to a 2-0 lead, one that the Tar Heels overcame a number of times. But in the end, it just wasn’t enough for UNC, who found itself in the opposite role than it had been in first game against the Orange this season.
“I thought we played extremely hard, and I thought the goalies did a terrific job,” Coach Joe Breschi said.
“I thought the transition game was solid and so was the goalie game; it was just a good, well-fought lacrosse game, but I didn’t think either offense executed quite as well as the they did in our earlier games.”
North Carolina scored 17 goals in the last match-up. This time, and for only the second time this season, they were held to single-digit scoring with only eight. And for the first time this season, Syracuse — with nine goals — was also held to single digits.
“There were some small things that we didn’t execute down the stretch – some little things that cost us, and in a one-goal game, those are things that can come back and bite you,” Breschi said.
Even with senior midfielder Chad Tutton scoring two goals to even up the game at eight a piece, one of those “little” things was a controversial offside call that gave Syracuse back the ball. And with less than two minutes left, the Orange were able to run out the clock after a late goal by Kevin Rice gave them the final lead.
But while the Tar Heels can’t add an ACC championship title to their resume, they are still on the hunt for an even bigger accolade: an NCAA championship. Even with the loss, North Carolina will be one of 16 teams to play in the tournament in May.
So they are using this loss as a new starting point, striving to make every game like their first against Syracuse, not their last.
“We can learn from every single game, and these last two losses, they were tough, but it is what it is,” Tutton said.
“We can take that bitter taste in our mouths and come out hot. We can take these past two losses and really get a little bit of fires in our bellies.”
And hopefully for the Tar Heels, those fires will be enough to get them to — and past — another semi-final game.
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