NC Hammer controlled the face at the opening whistle and settled into their perimeter offense. They were not shy about immediately letting loose from all angles, distances, and situations. Fairfield goalie CJ Kemp was forced to come up big on a barrage of bombs from outside, but Carolina was not picking their spots -- Kemp often didn't even have to move his stick or his body, and that's not good when you're trying to nail one from 15 yards out. Jeff Sonke tried to get things moving for the Heels when he bull dodged from the right wing, but with Scott Bowen playing physical position D and a slide coming from the middle, Sonke held on a little too long and lifted a pass across the middle and out of bounds. After a botched clear (one of many, many failed Stag clears on the day) Sonke found himself with the ball uncontested at the top right of the box on a short stick. He drove hard left, spun and shot, but it sailed a foot high. On the ensuing Fairfield clear, Sonke gave himself another shot after he shoved Bryan Gautreau to the turf when Gautreau tried to sneak by on the near sideline. Fairfield's tight, aggressive zone was having a great day at the office though. They were forcing Carolina to find the open man on their slides from the crease, and Carolina never could, choosing instead to always pass adjacent or go one against the world. It also didn't help that when Will or Sonke would move into a threatening position from a hard drive behind the pipe, their teammates up top would stand still as their man turned to help out. Fairfield was also finishing their body checks with some oomph, and looked to be the more physical of the two teams.
Sonke connected to start the scoring at around 8 minutes gone with a nice rip from 15 yards out. Kemp had been stuffing similar attempts, but this one had his number. But the Stags answered right back just 30 seconds later when Stanley drove right down the middle from up top, split a little to his left, and finished lefty on a 10 yard bouncer. The Stags took the lead shortly after when, on a pretty Blindenbacher stuff of a rocket to the five hole, Peter Stanley was there to take out the trash and make it 2-1 Faifield. The quarter ended that way, and you could tell Fairfield was playing with confidence.
Carolina controlled the second quarter face but got caught up in a cluster at midfield where the bouncing ball went the Stags way. Fairfield called a timeout (their last of the half already) to keep possession. It helped. Attackman Tom Werney drove left to right across the top and put a bouncer offside past Blindenbacher to make it 3-1. Fairfield jumped on the face after the goal but it went down to Carolina's offense for only a couple of seconds -- Nate Bauers picked Steven Will with a sharp spinal check as he was coming around from left behind. Fairfield botched another clear when they tried to power by two Carolina middies cornering them along the sideline. The Heels then let Austin Garrison give his best impression of someone who can go lefty, but Fairfield wasn't buying it, and threw him to the turf repeatedly when they doubled on his backside knowing he would turn right back into it. Meanwhile, Sonke was still trying to find his groove from up top (where he found himself a lot in the first half), but Scott Bowen was always managing to disrupt his shot by getting under his elbow or shoving him at the right moment (Kemp did get saved by a pipe though). Also, Fairfield was still feeding the ball much more than Carolina at this point -- the Stags would at least attempt to find guys on back door cuts or streaks down the middle, but the Heels were content to keep passing it around the horn and just shoot if they got into any trouble.
Fairfield managed to get some time down on offense, and in a move that broke Garrison's ankles, Fairfield's Shaun Graham rolled back to the middle from a drive down the right wing and tiptoed in on Blindenbacher for an uncontested ping to the upper right. Carolina was faceguarding everyone and it looked as if the Red Sea had parted for Graham. 4-1 Fairfield. More one on one's for Carolina and shots that routinely didn't make Kemp's stick move. The Heels finally managed to break through again when Sonke drive from the left wing, inside rolled and got a step, and let loose on a lefty overhand that got whacked by Bowen from behind. When it lofted towards the left pipe, Will picked it out of the air and stuck it righty from one yard out. Faifield then took a long offensive stand which consisted mostly of perimeter passing and occasional rips that were not even close, but were always backed up. About 3 minutes worth of that went on until Blindenbacher whipped an outlet to a breaking Hunter Sims, who hit Will on the 2nd pass on a standard 4-3 break., but Will flubbed it and Carolina had to regroup. A note on riding and clearing that was true for most of the game: Fairfield always left the man open in the far corner and Carolina had absolutely no trouble with clearing the ball on one pass (why even ride if that's the case?). On the other hand, Carolina constantly enticed Fairfield into trying to leg it out along the sidelines, and every time Faifield fell prey to the double team trap. The clock was winding down on the half, and with another Carolina possession, Kemp withstood a flurry -- Sonke 5 hole, Gosier high, and one from point blank on the right wing, but they were all denied, and Fairfield took a 4-2 lead into the locker room.
A Mac Hammer penalty on the face led to a 5-2 Fairfield lead -- Stanley fed from top left to Beuker on the bottom right just as the man-up got under way. The Heels controlled the face, but Garrison, on the right wing, again got pummeled for not being able to go to his left -- Fairfield doubled and headed upfield where they unloaded a series of shots. Problem was that, although Fairfield had good placement, none of their shots had any real speed on them (Carolina had lots of velocity, but little accuracy). Down on the other end, Steven Will drew a slash on Nate Bowers and looked to capitalize on the freebie, but everyone else sat around up top. On the man-up however, Carolina made quick work when Andew Lucas took the ball behind right and fed Sonke, who was drifting over to the right up top. Sonke took it and absolutely ripped it top right corner off Kemp's stick from 12 yards out. The Stags struck just 20 seconds later when Scipioni fed Bamann on the crease for a 6-3 lead. Carolina won the face. Sonke was still plugging away from up top, but still not really challenging Kemp unless he had a lot of time to wind up. After some ball movement around the horn, Sonke got it again at the top right of the box, drove right and rolled back to his left, and ripped a lefty offside bouncer past Kemp to cut the lead to 6-4. With a solid defensive stand immediately after the face, Fairfield regained the ball, but couldn't clear yet again after getting trapped at the midfield. The Stags did get it back again after near pipe Sonke rip, and this time got lucky on the clear when an attempted Gilman bounced off a Carolina defenseman. Carolina's Peter Anselmo was all over a slightly errant pass near the top of the box, and he bolted down the right side with the ball on a break. He moved it to Lattimore behind when it had evolved into a slow break, and Lattimore hit a streaking Joel Miller, who was trailing the play and finished low. 6-5 Fairfield. Carolina then drew a push call on Fairfield's Gautreau that was weak one, especially considering a game where the refs were letting them play. Carolina's Pat Jackson nailed the crossbar from the left wing on regular rotation across the top, but the rebound came to the right and was fed up to Sonke alone at the top right-center. He then put a laser offside low past a splitting Kemp to tie it up 6-6. The Heels took the face, worked it around behind, and freshmen Lucas split dodged his man from behind left, ducked inside, and pinged it low right from paint on the crease. The third ended 7-6, Carolina.
Mac Hammer raked it forward to himself for a break but Will shot wide from the point. He (Will) immediately made up for it by driving around left, somehow squirting through a triple team to get 7 yards out dead center, and lasered it top left corner for the 8-6 lead. Carolina's Ben Dobson then got a playing with a free arm call against him, and the Stags took advantage of the extra man when Werney ripped it from top left on a Bamann feed. Defenseman Ronnie Staines took it coast to coast for Carolina off of a dropped ball and Carolina barely missed a cutting Joel Miller for what would have been a near replica of an earlier goal on the slow break. Fairfield rebuffed a couple strong drives from Will and Sonke that resulted in shots high and wide. Fairfield finally took control (their offense was not seeing the ball much, and Gormsen made Scipioni invisible), but Staines caused yet another turnover on a nice low back check right as Fairfield settled, and Staines sent it the other way. On Carolina's end they were still mostly feeding it up top for high rips (Fairfield was giving it to them) -- but sometimes they were not even close. The Heels would go up by 3 when Will drifted around the left wing and looped back to X, and then made a beautiful thread to a back door cutting Hammer on the right pipe. Carolina took the face again, but Bowen stripped Sonke on the left wing, and after some nasty hits during the transition, Fairfield settled. Werney lost it up top on a double while he was alone up there, and the Heels brought it down for Garrison to feed Bell across the top of the box. Bell stuck it stick side hip from 10 yards out on the right. Hammer again controlled the face after the 10-7 lead with 5 to play. Carolina drew a slash with 3:30 to go and were smart about taking their time -- Will quarterbacked from behind and worked it around the left wing to Lucas. Sonke was yet again all alone up top (how?). With enough time to take a shot like he was in warm-ups, he buried it after a huge wind-up (and still no one was near him). 11-7 Carolina. Gosier put the icing on the cake when he took a feed in the hole from Garrison behind at 2:00 for a 12-7 lead.
North Carolina vs. Fairfield