CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The Lehigh men’s lacrosse team scored four of the first five second-half goals to break a 5-5 tie, on the way to one of its biggest wins in school history as the Mountain Hawks downed the #4 North Carolina Tar Heels, 9-8 on Saturday evening. Junior Ryan Snyder won 13-of-20 faceoffs while three Mountain Hawks scored two goals apiece and freshman Matt Poillon made eight saves between the pipes.
“I’m unbelievably proud of the way our guys battled tonight,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “From the very first whistle, they played their hearts out – from the first whistle to the last. North Carolina is an extremely talented team and they were playing just as hard. It was a back and forth effort.
“We made some plays when the game was being decided; UNC forced us to secure the win,” Cassese continued. “We had a huge stop at the end. I’m proud of our defense for staying strong. They played a lot today. I thought our defense, although tired, stood tall at the end and got a big stop.”
Lehigh’s defense continued to excel, allowing only eight goals and 16 shots on goal to a North Carolina team averaging more than 15 goals per game over its first four. The unit also shut out UNC for 27:50 bridging the end of the second through the fourth quarters, allowing the offense to erase a 5-3 deficit and go up 8-5. The Mountain Hawks forced an explosive Tar Heel offense to 19 turnovers and 0-for-3 on man-up opportunities; North Carolina had been 60 percent (6-of-10) on extra man.
With the win, the Mountain Hawks improve to 3-0 on the road and 4-1 overall, matching their best start since 2006. It also snapped a four-game losing streak against the Tar Heels, marking the squad’s first win over North Carolina since 1951.
Lehigh-North Carolina Box Score (3/3/12)
Snyder was 13-of-20 with 10 groundballs at the faceoff X, this against defending ACC Defensive Player of the Week R.G. Keenan, who won only 3-of-12 before getting relieved by Frankie Kelly (2-of-5) and Mark Staines (2-of-3). Keenan entered Saturday with a dazzling 81.5 percentage following a dominant 18-of-20 effort at Navy last Saturday.
“Ryan Snyder was the difference,” said Cassese. “He played great, standing tall against one of the best in the country and proving he’s one of the best himself.”
Junior David DiMaria led the offense with four points (one goal, three assists), including the game’s first goal to set the tone. Classmate Dante Fantoni also added two goals and an assist while senior Cameron Lao-Gosney and junior Kyle Stiefel each added a pair.
“In in his first full game back, Dante came in and really sparked us,” said Cassese. “He got some big goals and made some big plays for us.”
North Carolina’s top three goals-scorers, Davey Emala, Marcus Holman and Jimmy Bitter, were held to a single goal between the three of them. Emala had eight coming in, and was held to one assist, as was Bitter. Reigning All-American and ACC Freshman of the Year Nicky Galaso was held pointless.
Poillon was strong, making eight saves, including one with just 27 seconds remaining off a Marcus Holmar shot that would have evened the score at nine. The freshman also added a career-high five groundballs while sophomore defenseman Ty Souders posted three.
“I thought Ty had another big game,” said Cassese. “We asked him to cover the best player on the field and he did. He was definitely the catalyst for us. Our short stick defensive midfielders played very well too. Noah Molnar continues to lead the way and Jimmy Cahill, Derek Bogorowski and Alan Henderson played well in their roles.”
The win marks Lehigh’s second in a row over a ranked foe after topping #19/18 Penn on Tuesday. It’s also the Mountain Hawks’ second straight over a 2011 NCAA Tournament team as both the Quakers and Tar Heels earned at-large berths to last year’s tournament.
DiMaria got the scoring started less than two minutes in, making it 1-0 at the 13:26 mark. The teams then went back and forth; the Tar Heels answered with two straight before Lao-Gosney took a feed from DiMaria and beat North Carolina goalie Steven Restivo to make it 2-2 at 3:51 of the first.
It looked like the Tar Heels would pull away as Jack McBride scored at the end of the first and beginning of the second quarters, but Fantoni scored his first of the game (and season) at 10:59 of the second. North Carolina went back up 5-3, but two man-up goals from Stiefel – both in the last two minutes – knotted the score at five at the half.
The Lehigh defense took over in the second, holding the Tar Heels off the board for a 27:50 stretch (dating back to the second quarter), before Holman got North Carolina on the board at 6:06 of the fourth. But in that time, Fantoni, Cameron Lao-Gosney and freshman Patrick Corbett all scored to put the Mountain Hawks up 8-5 midway through the fourth.
After Holman’s goal, senior Adam Johnston answered with a man-up tally to make it 9-6 with 2:52 remaining. But North Carolina wouldn’t give up, scoring two quick goals in a 26-second span to pull within 9-8 with 2:11 on the clock.
The Tar Heels had chances down the stretch, but Lehigh continued to have answers, forcing a turnover while making a big save, to preserve the victory.
Lehigh finished with a 28-27 edge in shots and 31-23 in groundballs. The Mountain Hawks were an impressive 3-of-4 on man-up opportunities while holding UNC 0-for-3. Lehigh had only 15 turnovers to the Tar Heels’ 19. Restivo stopped 12 of Lehigh’s 21 shots for UNC.
Lehigh will wrap up its three-game road trip when it faces VMI on Tuesday before returning home to the Ulrich Sports Complex to host #18 Yale on Sunday, Mar. 11.