The No. 6 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team started out hot and never took the foot off the gas, never trailing in a 13-9 upset of No. 1 Denver in Colorado.
UNC opened up the game firing on all cylinders, with senior midfielder Michael Tagliaferri scoring 43 seconds into the game for the Tar Heels. Senior attackman Luke Goldstock would follow with a goal of his own with 11:01 left in the first quarter to give UNC a 2-0 lead. The teams would not score again until Denver got its first goal of the game with 3:39 left in the first quarter. Three more goals exchanged between the sides in the quarter, resulting in a 4-2 lead for UNC when the horn sounded.
The second quarter was when the game turned into the Brian Balkham show. The junior Tar Heel keeper snagged five saves in the period, holding the Pioneers to a lone goal in the period as UNC ripped off three unanswered goals after Denver’s opener to take a 7-3 lead into halftime.
Coming out of the break, junior attackman Chris Cloutier scored a goal in a man-up situation to put UNC in the driver’s seat in the game. Balkham reined in another five saves as the Tar Heels outscored the Pioneers 3-2 in the quarter to give UNC a 10-5 lead heading into the final frame.
Denver put up a fight in the final quarter, firing a 14 shots to UNC’s six in a comeback attempt. The Pioneers got within three goals with 3:32 left in the game, but UNC pulled ahead once again to ice the game.
Who stood out?
Balkham was on fire inside the cage for the Tar Heels. He finished with 17 saves, including five in each of the last three quarters to set a new career high. Coach Joe Breschi said that UNC’s defense contesting shots made Denver’s job difficult, but ultimately the goalie has to see the ball, and Balkham delivered when the Tar Heels needed him most.
Goldstock was UNC’s biggest offensive weapon early in the game. After scoring the second goal of the contest in the first quarter and assisting on the first, Goldstock went to work in the second quarter. After Denver pulled within one, Goldstock scored the final three goals of the quarter to put UNC in control of the game. His five points lead the team.
Sophomore attackman Andy Matthews didn’t tally a goal during the game, but he did assist on three of Goldstock’s four goals to lead in assists for the Tar Heels balanced passing attack.
When was it decided?
Denver pulled within three goals with a little over three and half minutes left in the game when first-year Justin Anderson scored two unassisted goals in under a minute to put UNC up five with two minutes to go, allowing the Tar Heels to easily finish out the game.
Why does it matter?
After getting trounced by Johns Hopkins at home last weekend, UNC needed a strong performance to regain momentum in the team’s national title defense.
Going on the road, a mile above sea level, and defeating the top ranked team in the country will generate that momentum.
With Balkham on fire in the cage, and the offense sharing the ball (eight goal scorers) like the Tar Heels did on Saturday, it’s hard to dislike UNC’s chances against anyone in the country. The challenge now for the Tar Heels will be maintaining that high level of play as the season wears on.
Where do they play next?
UNC will take on Hofstra on Saturday, March 11, at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill. Game time is scheduled to be 2:30 p.m.
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