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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's lacrosse's best isn't good enough in loss to top-ranked Denver

Jack Rowlett turns his head. He’s come off the field after committing his second penalty of the first half in North Carolina’s 13-12 overtime loss to Denver, the defending men’s lacrosse national champions.

His teammates can tell the first-year defenseman is rattled.

Austin Pifani walks toward him.

“Hey, that’s in the past,” Pifani says. “Just go out and play the best you can in the moment, and good things will happen.”

The moment comes. It’s the fourth quarter. UNC trails 11-8 and can’t win a faceoff against Denver’s Trevor Baptiste, who won 21 of 28 faceoffs.

“Jack!”

Coach Joe Breschi calls on the rookie. Rowlett hasn’t done faceoffs since high school, but desperate for a change, Breschi’s ready to throw anything in to see what sticks.

Instead of trying to get the jump on Baptiste, Rowlett concedes. He scraps and fights for the ground ball, hoping to force Denver to clear the ball from its back end.

Somehow, it works. After going nearly 12 minutes with only one good offensive possession, UNC scores on a Michael Tagliaferri goal with 5:32 remaining.

Two minutes later, Tagliaferri scores again, bringing the Tar Heels within one.

“At the end, you kind of take the reins off a little bit and just go,” Tagliaferri said. “Your teammates put trust in you, everybody’s telling you to go hard.”

After another failed clearance attempt by Denver, the Tar Heels tie the score at 11 with Patrick Kelly’s third goal of the game.

Once more, Rowlett and Baptiste face off. The whistle blows, Rowlett scraps and Baptiste loses his only ground ball of the fourth quarter.

With 66 seconds to go, Steve Pontrello scores his only goal of the game to give UNC a 12-11 lead, almost completing an improbable comeback for the Tar Heels.

Almost.

With nine seconds remaining, Denver ties the game, then scores first in overtime to earn the victory. The best the Tar Heels have to offer isn’t enough.

Yet it’s leaps and bounds better from only two weeks ago, when the team fell 10-5 to then-unranked Hofstra.

Breschi questioned his team’s effort then. He doesn’t question it Saturday.

“You score four goals against that team at the end of the game, that’s a heck of an effort by our guys,” Breschi said.

“It doesn’t take away the sting or the pain of a loss, but our guys understand that if they follow the scheme and listen and are coachable like they have been, they’re going to continue to get better.”

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@loganulrich

sports@dailytarheel.com