Hofstra vs. North Carolina
April 18, 2009
The Game Story:
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. - Led by a balanced offensive attack, the 10th-ranked University of North Carolina men's lacrosse team used an 8-2 second-half scoring blitz to rally past sixth-ranked Hofstra University Saturday night before a crowd of 6,661 fans at James M. Shuart M. Stadium. The win was Carolina's 10th of the regular season as the 2009 team became only the sixth Tar Heel squad since the program's inception in 1949 to reach double figures in wins before the start of post-season play.

In improving to 10-4 (0-3 ACC), Carolina handed the Pride, now 9-2 (5-0 Colonial Athletic Association), its first home loss of the 2009 campaign and it ended Hofstra's seven-match winning streak. The Pride's last loss came on March 7 when it was defeated 12-7 at Johns Hopkins. The 13 goals scored by the Tar Heels are the most allowed by Hofstra this season.

"It was a great road win against a terrific Hofstra team," said first-year Tar Heel head coach Joe Breschi. "I thought that coming into a hostile environment with a big crowd our guys handled everything with poise and with composure and they really executed the game plan in the second half perfectly. The best thing that happened to us was playing in the Meadowlands two weeks ago. It set the stage for us for the environment we faced here."

With back-to-back non-conference wins over Ohio State and Hofstra, the Tar Heels now carry the momentum from a road win over a Top 10 team into next weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference Men's Lacrosse Tournament at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. The fourth-seeded Tar Heels will meet top-seeded Maryland at 5 p.m. Friday in the opening semifinal game followed at 7:30 p.m. by the other semifinal game between No. 2 seed Duke and No. 3 seed Virginia. The ACC championship game will be next Sunday at 3:30 p.m. UNC will be seeking its first league title since 1996.

"I asked the team on the bus after the game, `How many times in your life do you get to play for a championship'. We get to play in Kenan Stadium against the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament next Friday," said Breschi. "I know our we will be well prepared and excited for the opportunity we'll have."

The quartet of sophomore attackman Billy Bitter, junior midfielder Sean Delaney, senior midfielder Ben Hunt and junior attackman Gavin Petracca led the Tar Heels offensively as they combined to score 11 of UNC's 13 goals. Bitter (4 goals), Delaney (3 goals, 1 assist) and Hunt (2 goals, 2 assists) all had four-point. Petracca had two goals while Bart Wagner had a two-point game with a goal and an assist. Freshman midfielder Jimmy Dunster added the Tar Heels' 13th tally. Jay Card did most of the offensive damage for the Pride as he had four of Hofstra's eight goals while four other players had a goal apiece for the home team. Steven DeNapoli had two assists for the home standing Pride.

Bitter, a sophomore attackman from Stowe, Vt., has now scored four or more goals in a game this season four times, including the last three matches in a row. He had five goals in UNC's 11-10 loss to Virginia on April 4, four tallies in Carolina 12-11 win over Ohio State last Saturday and four more scores Saturday night versus Hofstra. Bitter's 50 points are the most by a UNC player in a single season since Ryan Blair had 51 points in 2005 and his 33 goals are the most by a Tar Heel since Mike McCall also had 33 goals in the 2005 campaign. Bitter scored his four goals on Saturday on only five shots.

Sean Delaney ran his season goal total to 28, the most by a Tar Heel midfielder in a season since Jason Wade in 1996, and he now has 34 points on the campaign. Delaney has now exceeded his goal and point totals from his first two seasons combined which were 22 and 33, respectively.

Gavin Petracca's two goals ran his season total to 20, giving him his second 20-goal season in his career. He had 24 goals in 2007. Bart Wagner is now just one goal shy of joining Bitter as the team's second 30-goal scorer this campaign. Wagner is approaching UNC's career Top 10 in points, goals and assists with 146, 85 and 61, respectively.

Senior midfielder Shane Walterhoefer won 17 of 25 face-offs in the game, giving him 203 face-off victories this season, 19 short of his own school record total of 222 he set in 2007. He also had a game-high 10 ground balls in the game, giving him 354 in his career. He has now won 657 career face-offs, fourth most in the NCAA record book, and his 354 ground balls rank him seventh in NCAA Division I history, just one ground ball behind the 355 claimed by Johns Hopkins' Franz Wittelsberger from 1973-76. Walterhoefer has now equaled the 113 ground balls he had in 2007. Those two season totals are tied for fourth in Tar Heel lore for ground balls won in a single season.

With its 10th regular-season win, the Tar Heels now join five other UNC teams that won at least 10 games prior to the start of ACC and NCAA Tournament play. Those teams include the 1973 squad (12 regular-season wins), the 1982 team (11), the 1991 team (11), the 1993 team (10) and the 1996 team (10).

After beating the Pride for the second straight year, UNC improved to 3-6 all-time against Hofstra in a series that began in 1978. The Tar Heels won a year ago in Chapel Hill 13-9 on April 19, 2008. It was only Carolina's second win in eight games played in Hempstead, N.Y., the other win being a 10-4 victory on May 3, 1997.

The Tar Heels outshot the Pride 39-31, including 10-2 edge in the third quarter when the Carolina went on a 5-1 scoring run to erase a 6-5 halftime deficit and carry a three-goal lead into the final 15 minutes. For the 14th game in 14 tries this season UNC won the ground ball battle, 37-25. UNC played its regular starting close defensive trio of senior Jack Ryan, freshman Charlie McComas and sophomore Ryan Flanagan together for the first time since the Duke game March 14. McComas was second on the team in ground balls with four while Bitter, Hunt, Flanagan and freshman midfielder Tyler Morton each had three.

Walterhoefer led the Tar Heels in dominating the face-off X 17-8. Freshman James Petracca recorded his second straight win in the goal as he stopped nine shots, including four in the second half when he limited HU to only two goals. Andrew Gvozden had 12 saves for the Pride, nine in the first half. The Tar Heels were more effective in their shot placement in the second half, scoring eight times in 11 shots on goal.

The Tar Heels committed 16 turnovers, including two failed clears while Hofstra had 15 turnovers that included four failed clears. Both teams had three extra-man offense opportunities with Hofstra scoring twice, both in the second quarter when it rallied from a 4-1 deficit to take a 6-5 halftime lead, and the Tar Heels scoring once.

"At halftime we talked about the ground ball battle and that it starts at the face-off X," said Breschi. "We moved Ryan Flanagan to the wing on the face-offs at the start of the second half. The key then became if Shane Walterheofer wasn't winning the battle himself then we started to win the battle on the wings beginning in the third quarter.

"We put immense pressure on their defense in the second half. We were getting good looks, we scoring goals and then we were getting the ball back with the work at the X."

With the exception of James Petracca making his second straight start in goal after the season-ending injury against Virginia on April 4, the Tar Heels started their regular lineup for the first time since the Duke game on March 14. Bart Wagner, Billy Bitter and Gavin Petracca started on attack, Ben Hunt, Jimmy Dunster and Sean Delaney in the midfield and Ryan Flanagan, Jack Ryan and Charlie McComas on close defense.

After an initial Hofstra shot on the first possession, goalie James Petracca was closest to the ball when it left the field, giving the ball to Carolina. UNC tallied the first goal at 12:15 as Ben Hunt scored from Sean Delaney. Delaney almost had the ball stripped away on a double team but fed Hunt for the score against a Hofstra team playing a tight, aggressive defense. After getting the ball back with an effective clear employing the entire field, UNC turned the ball over as Billy Bitter was trying to make a play on the right side of the crease. On the ensuing possession, Hofstra tied the game at 1-1 at 8:51 on a goal by Brad Loizeaux, assisted by Dan Stein.

After Shane Walterhoefer's first face-off win of the day, Petracca made a save on Anthony Muscarella's rocket only to see Gvozden answer on the other end with a save on a transition attempt by Bitter. Ryan Flanagan tried to save the ball on a ground ball fight but the ball rolled out of bounds giving possession to Hofstra. The Heels got the ball back however and Jimmy Dunster fed Gavin Petracca for a goal at 4:48 to put the Heels up 2-1. Despite a scrappy checking effort by Milton Lyles, Hofstra was able to win the next face-off. UNC again got possession and cleared the ball with James Petracca and Ryan Flanagan working nicely in tandem. Hofstra won the ball back and took a timeout at 2:08 of the quarter. The Tar Heels would strike to end the quarter, however. After Gvozden made a foot save on a rocket by Ben Hunt, Carolina ran down the clock before Bart Wagner scored an unassisted goal with eight seconds left in the quarter.

The Pride again frustrated the Heels on the opening face-off of the second quarter but Petracca made another save. The Tar Heels' possession then led to a 4-1 lead as Billy Bitter scored unassisted at 12:37. Bitter came around the back side of the goal, lost his defender, move slightly to the inside and send a hard shot that bounced into and then out of the goal. It did not take long for the Pride to answer as Jay Card scored the first of his four goals at 11:59 off an assist by Kevin Ford. The Heels had some wide open looks on the ensuing possession but Gvozden came up big twice to keep the score at 4-2. After a long face-off battle that ended up in the Tar Heel box, Gavin Petracca retrieved the ground ball and was one-on-one with Gvozden who saved the point blank shot. Bitter claimed the ground ball and the Heels got a wide-open look with Wagner on the crease only to be turned away. Gvozden threw the ball away on the clear and UNC got a third crack at him but Gvozden made his third save in a span of 10 seconds to give the Pride momentum.

Hofstra then scored in transition to make it 4-3 as Tom Interlicchio scored off an assist by Steven DeNapoli at 9:35. The Pride won another face-off and on the possession, Petracca made another save and Michael Burns was able to make an end line clear while dodging two HU defenders. Ben Hunt shot high and then Gvozden had a body save on a shot by Delaney. On the other end, Petracca again came up with a big save on a Hofstra player who found himself all alone on the crease with the UNC net minder. After Billy Bitter offside penalty at 6:33, Hofstra scored its third straight goal on the man-up as Jay Card tallied at the 6:05 mark. UNC was able to regain the lead exactly one minute later when Billy Bitter scored an unassisted goal after Chris Hunt scrapped for a ground ball pickup before it crossed the midline.

With the Tar Heels up 5-4, Hofstra took their second timeout at 3:26. Nine seconds later, Ryan Flanagan was called for tripping leading to a man-up game-tying goal by Hofstra. After another face-off win, Hofstra scored in transition to take its first lead of the game at 6-5 while seizing all of the momentum. The Heels tried to regroup with a timeout at 1:55. Petracca again had a big save for the Heels on another wide open look by an attackman standing right in the front of the crease. The Heels took another timeout with 50 seconds left in the half and got a nice look by Sean Burke but it was deflected into the stands.

The second half started with a clean face-off win by Walterhoefer. A shot by Delaney was deflected outside the crease and Delaney pounced on the ground ball and scored at 13:46 to tie the game at six all. UNC appeared to claim the lead on a goal by Bitter at 10:34 but it was wiped out by a crease violation keeping the scored tied. A solo clear by Ben Hunt led to an unassisted goal by the senior midfielder at 9:36, putting the Heels up for good at 7-6. No one picked up Hunt and he was able to run all the way through the defense and placed an unstoppable shot past Gvozden. At this point, UNC had the momentum back and Delaney scored again at 8:26 to make it 8-6 in favor of UNC on an amazingly athletic goal of the highlight reel variety. Delaney weaved through several defenders, was able to keep possession, showed his skill at being mad at the ball and scored probably the best of his 28 goals this season.

Walterhoefer won another face-off and had a shot of his own that went wide. Bitter then dodged his player on an ankle breaker, earned a wide open shot a put it in at 7:19. It was the third straight spectacular goal by the Heels, all on splendid individual efforts by the three different goal scorers. Steve Prifte of the Pride was called for a trip 15 seconds later, giving UNC the man-up for a minute but the Heels turned it over, squandering the EMO. A great check got the ball back for Carolina, but the Heels were then called for failure to advance. Hofstra capitalized and Jay Card got his fourth goal of the game at 5:17 to cut the UNC lead to 9-7. The Heels came right back with Gavin Petracca scoring from Ben Hunt to make it 10-7. Hunt made and unselfish pass and Petracca muscled the shot in while being hit on the play. Petracca was shaken up and freshman Thomas Wood came in on attack. UNC won another face-off on a ground ball pickup by freshman Tyler Morton but the Heels were warned for stalling at the one-minute mark. Hofstra got the ball back on a fast break with 11 seconds left. Card, who had been hot all night, got an open shot on Petracca but it was saved by Petracca as the period ended.

Hofstra won the opening face-off of the final period and at 13:50 Kevin Ford pulled HU within 10-8 on an unassisted goal. The Pride had a great chance to cut the lead to one goal but Petracca made a tremendous save on Muscarella to keep the Heels' advantage at two goals. The Heels got the ball back and got two open shots for Jimmy Dunster but neither were on cage. Bitter responded with another one of his patented gasp-inspiring goals at 11:03 and it was 11-8 Tar Heels. Dunster got his goal almost three minutes later at 8:20 to give the Heels a four-goal lead for the first time. Walterhoefer had another clean face-off win and Adam Swarsen was called for a cross check at 6:44. The flag was thrown early but the Tar Heels held the ball for more than a minute, killing clock before the penalty was assessed. The Heels then ran the EMO to their liking and Delaney scored a man-up goal, assisted by Wagner at 6:01, making the score 13-8.

Gvozden made a clean save on a shot by Wagner on the next possession and Kevin Federico and Chris Layne entered on attack with Petracca still on the sideline after the hit he took in the third quarter. Petracca made another big save on Muscarella but the ball rolled under Petracca in the process but Flanagan scooped up the ground ball before it crossed the goal line, blunting any hopes of another comeback by Hofstra, a characteristic of the nation's sixth-ranked unit. Coach Joe Breschi used a timeout at 2:49 to plan strategy for the end of the game and UNC successfully killed off the time to finish off its first true road win since winning at Johns Hopkins on March 29, 2008 by the same 13-8 score.