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Posted Saturday, April 27, 2013
Chapel Hill, NC - With North Carolina holding a nine-goal lead over Duke early in the third period, Friday night’s second Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Lacrosse Championship semifinal didn’t appear headed for a dramatic finish.
But as tension mounted to a near heart-stopping level in the closing moments, Tar Heel attacker Marcus Holman and goalkeeper Kiernan Burke gladly assumed the starring roles.
Holman’s goal off an assist from Chad Tutton with 1:28 remaining snapped a 17-all tie, and Burke rejected a potential game-tying shot by Duke’s David Lawson with six seconds showing to preserve an 18-17 North Carolina win.
A crowd of 4,567 at Kenan Stadium saw the second-seeded Tar Heels prevail after squandering a 15-6 lead in a span of just over 15 minutes in the second half. The third-seeded Blue Devils reeled off eight unanswered goals during one stretch and stunned the Kenan Stadium crowd by going in front 17-16 on Bill Conners’ score with 6:12 remaining in the game.
But North Carolina pulled even at the 5:01 mark when Jimmy Bitter drove home a goal after a nifty feed from Holman, setting the stage for the unforgettable finish.
“People asked me if I have ever been a part of a game like that,” North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. “I can tell you this: I have never been part of a game where we had a nine-goal lead, seen the other team come back to lead and still have that resiliency, that desire, that fight to continue to battle.”
The Tar Heels (11-3) will take on fourth-seeded Virginia (7-7), an upset winner over top-seeded Maryland in Friday’s first semifinal, in Saturday’s 1 p.m. championship game.
Duke (11-5) fell short in its bid for a second straight ACC title but will await word from the NCAA selection committee on May 5. The Blue Devils entered the ACC Championship with nine straight wins, the longest active winning streak in the nation.
“We want to congratulate the University of North Carolina,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “Their big guys were terrific. And Marcus Holman … what can you say? We think he is just an awesome player.”
Holman said his winning score came on a set play, one on which he anticipated taking the shot even as Tutton’s pass was in flight.
“I kind of felt as the ball was in the air I could get a step on the defensemen,” Holman said. “I kind of had the opportunity to let it rip, and I just shot it as hard as I could.”
The two teams’ combined 35 points on Friday night were the most in tournament history, eclipsing Virginia’s 17-16 double-overtime win over UNC in 2000. It also tied for the fifth-highest total point total of any game between ACC opponents.
Perhaps it figured that nothing would come easy for the Tar Heels, who are seeking to win their first ACC championship since 1996. North Carolina had lost 16 of 17 to the rival Blue Devils prior to Friday night, with the lone win coming during the 2010 season.
In a departure from the regular-season meeting between the teams that saw the Blue Devils scrap for an 11-8 win, goals were in abundance from the start. The half ended with North Carolina in front by a score of 13-6 – the final score of Virginia’s win over Maryland in the first semifinal.
The Tar Heels took the lead at the 1:11 mark of the first quarter, when Marcus Holman’s goal off an assist from Davey Emala snapped a 2-2 tie. T.J. Kemp followed with a running, unassisted goal that just beat the final horn to push North Carolina’s lead to 4-2.
Buoyed by five unanswered goals during one second-quarter stretch, the Tar Heels built their seven-point lead by the half. Holman and Tutton each had a hat trick by the break, with Holman extending his own school consecutive-game scoring record to 29.
The Blue Devils won seven of nine faceoffs as they mounted their third-quarter comeback and put the clamps on the Tar Heel defensively. The momentum shifted in waves until Bitter finally ended North Carolina’s scoring drought.
“You almost felt it was going to come down to who had the ball last,” Breschi said. “They were really explosive offensively, and we weren’t giving our goalkeeper a lot of help.”
Holman finished with four goals and six total points, putting him just two points shy of matching North Carolina’s school record of 204. Tutton also scored four goals for the Tar Heels.
Duke’s Jordan Wolf led all scorers with five goals and seven points. Wolf scored four goals and assisted on another during the Blue Devils’ second-half surge.
“We showed a lot of character, a lot of strength,” Danowski said. “After it was 15-6 in the third quarter, it was 11-3, Duke, the rest of the game. But it was too big of hole for us to overcome. I’m proud of our guys, but hats off to the Tar Heels.”
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