It was the desired ending the defending NCAA champion and 18th -ranked North Carolina Tar Heels wanted to write when they faced off against the top-ranked Syracuse Orange in ACC men’s lacrosse championship tournament play at Koskinen Stadium on Friday.
Chris Cloutier’s hat trick, along with two goals apiece from Luke Goldstock, Michael Tagliaferri, Tanner Cook, and Jack Lambert put the script together for a 10-player offensive output that produced a 16-15 semifinal win over the Orange (11-2).
North Carolina (7-7) kept its hopes alive to earn a spot in NCAA postseason play with No. 2 Duke or No. 3 Notre Dame being the next opponent to conquer in Sunday’s ACC title game.
“What a wild lacrosse game,” UNC head coach Joe Breschi said. “The resiliency of this group - we’ve battled all year long and we’ve had some struggles late in games. These guys battled all the way to the end. We used a lot of guys and they stepped up in the fourth
quarter when needed.”
Faceoff specialist Stephen Kelly won 18-of- 32 draws and was the cog that got the North Carolina scoring machine cranked up during the first half.
The Tar Heels led 6-1 before Syracuse scored to end a 15-minute scoring drought that made it a four-goal differential.
Sergio Salcido and Nick Mariano led the Orange with three goals each, while Brendan Bomberry and Jamie Trimboli added two apiece as nine different scorers contributed to the Syracuse offensive attack.
North Carolina led 11-2 before Syracuse ended a 15-minute scoring drought with back-to- back goals.
The Tar Heels continued to maintain full control, and led 13-4 at halftime.
Syracuse didn’t roll over and scored three straight to start the third period.
A six-goal game seemed to provide more than enough breathing room for the Tar Heels to carry on with.
However, long, steady breaths eventually changed to short, shallow ones.
Led by Salcido and Jordan Evans, Syracuse shut out the Tar Heels 8-0 in the third quarter, and trailed by just a goal heading into the final period.
North Carolina rarely possessed the ball as Syracuse draw man Ben Williams claimed his share of his 16 faceoff wins to help stage the dramatic comeback attempt.
With such drastic offensive swings, no one was sure who would emerge the victor.
Even though the Orange beat UNC 12-11 in overtime at Fetzer Field back on April 15, the Tar Heels felt like fate was on their side.
“We continued to believe,” Breschi said. “It happened so quickly in the third quarter – it was a one-goal game heading into the fourth quarter. These guys are so mentally tough. They’ve been through some tough losses and I think that has driven them to fight even harder to the end. Everybody just stuck together. Everybody believed they could win.”
North Carolina showed signs of life in the final quarter, and it was eventually enough to hold the Orange off.
Cook’s second of the game ended a 19-minute scoring drought and put the Tar Heels ahead 14-12 with 10:58 to play.
After Syracuse made it a one-goal game again, Cloutier scored his third before Goldstock extended the lead up to 16-13.
While Salcido answered back for the Orange, North Carolina clung on.
Bomberry made it a 16-15 game with 26.8 seconds to play.
Syracuse won the final possession off the draw, but North Carolina forced one last turnover and dashed the Orange’s hopes of tying the game.
“This time it was us making the plays in the end to win the game,” Breschi said. “We’ve had some ups and downs all year, and this is a great way to continue moving forward and play for a championship on Sunday.”