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No. 12 UNC men’s lacrosse loses at home in closely contested game to Denver, 9-8

UNC graduate midfielder Connor Maher (31) protects the ball during the men’s lacrosse game against Mercer at Dorrance Field on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

The No. 12 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team (3-2, 1-0 ACC) fell to the Denver Pioneers (3-2), 9-8, at Dorrance Field Saturday morning.

What happened?

The Pioneers got on the board first with a goal, but UNC was quick with a response. Graduate attackman Logan McGovern wrapped around the right side of the goal and hooked in an unassisted goal to tie the game at one.

Back-and-forth they went as the two teams exchanged two more goals to even the game at three. Graduate attackman Sean Goldsmith scored both of the aforementioned goals for UNC, the first was assisted by graduate defensive midfielder Connor Maher and the second from senior attackman Lance Tillman.

Ultimately, the Pioneers would have the last say in the first quarter, scoring a goal up the middle with under a minute on the clock to claim a 4-3 lead heading into the second quarter.

The Tar Heels’ defense started the second quarter soundly, chasing loose balls and coming up with an array of saves at the net. But eventually the Pioneers efforts prevailed, leading to back-to-back goals to claim a 6-3 lead. Denver’s sixth goal marked the second of the day for Pioneer junior attackman Joshua Carlson.

UNC’s offense broke the ice on its ice cold second quarter, finally tallying its first game of the quarter with just over 1:30 to play in the half. The goal was scored by sophomore defensive midfielder Ty English, and was assisted by Tillman, his second of the game.

Following a stop, the Tar Heels rushed down the field senior defensemen Matt Wright caught it deep and dished it to Goldsmith who stuck it in the cage as time expired, claiming a hat trick in the process. That goal brought the Tar Heels within one at the half as Denver led 6-5.

McGovern evened the score to start the half with his second goal off a pass through a narrow window from behind the goal from first-year attackman James Matan.

After facing a large scoring drought, Denver dropped a shot into the cage with 1:30 to play in the third quarter, reclaiming a one-point lead. With that, the Pioneers boasted a 7-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Goldsmith evened the game at seven as he racked up his fourth goal of the day off Tillman’s third assist. As the opposing defenses battled all day, one thing was clear: goals were not being readily scored, especially in the second half. This was a game that would come down to the final goal.

With 3:24, sophomore midfielder Antonio DeMarco sent in a goal to put the Tar Heels up 8-7, its first lead since the first quarter. But before the Tar Heels could even think, the Pioneers had scored a goal of their own. Back-and-forth they went once more.

And then it came. Denver senior attackman JJ Sillstrop sent in the goal to claim a 9-8 lead for the Pioneers. A failed response by the Tar Heels sealed the game. The final score belonged to Denver, and so did the game.

Who stood out? 

A goal to beat the buzzer at the half gave Goldsmith three goals, good for his first hat trick of the season. He helped anchor the Tar Heels’ offensive attack as UNC closed the first half on a strong note.

The defense for both teams was especially noteworthy on Saturday. Both teams were physical and aggressive, forcing turnovers and making goals difficult to come by.

When was it decided?

The Tar Heels failed to respond to Denver’s final goal, turning it over on a sloppy pass that soared over its intended target. With 10.9 seconds, Denver reclaimed possession and claimed the win 9-8.

Why does it matter?

This matchup against preseason No. 17 Denver was the fourth game the Tar Heels have played against a team that has been ranked within the first three weeks of the season. While their efforts were in vain Saturday, this game still provides significant experience against a talented Denver team.

When do they play next?

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The Tar Heels will be back in Dorrance Field next Saturday, March 11, at noon, as they take on Brown on Alumni Day.


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