April 3, 2010

Bitter Truth: Hopkins Falls Again; UNC Now 10-0

by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Game Blog

UNC midfielder Jimmy Dunster dodges during the third-ranked Tar Heels' 11-7 win Saturday at No. 14 Johns Hopkins.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

BALTIMORE - Third-ranked North Carolina was missing two key offensive players once again Saturday, but Tar Heels junior attackman Billy Bitter was back in his element at Homewood Field. A week after sitting out with a strained left calf, and watching his teammates keep the Tar Heels undefeated by beating Maryland, Bitter was back to his old, lightning-quick, sharp-shooting  self against struggling Johns Hopkins.

Bitter put 14th-ranked Hopkins on the ropes early with a first-half hat trick, the finished off the Blue Jays with a fourth-quarter goal, as No. 3 Carolina flexed its depth, size and athleticism to the tune of an 11-7 victory before 4,012.

Carolina improved to 10-0 for the first time since 1991, the last year the Tar Heels won a national championship. The Tar Heels also dropped Hopkins to 4-5, and dealt the Blue Jays another major blow in the process. Unless Hopkins gains a quality win over Maryland on April 17, and avoids a damaging loss during the rest of the regular season, the Blue Jays could miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in 39 years.

Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, searching for a winning combination, started four freshmen and gave six of them significant playing time. It didn’t matter, as Carolina -- despite missing their top two scorers in attackman Thomas Wood (19 goals) and midfielder Sean Delaney -- controlled the game with stretches of great transition, rugged defense and plenty of Bitter.

The Tar Heels led for the game’s final 36 minutes.

“Playing without Delaney [team-high 20 goals] is a big deal. [The Tar Heels] are a deeper team than people think,” Pietramala said. “We’re playing the freshmen because they are the guys that have earned the right to play in practice. We’ve got to get production from our older people. With us, it’s a failed clear at the most inopportune time, or a missed layup at the most inopportune time. We need a win to breathe some life back into ourselves.”

The Tar Heels had plenty of life. Their defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the NCAA and features a huge back line led by 6-foot-6 senior Ryan Flanagan, smothered the Blue Jays by shutting out senior midfielder Michael Kimmel and holding senior attackman Steven Boyle to one goal. Junior attackman Kyle Wharton gave Hopkins a spark with a team-high three goals.

But the Carolina defense hunkered down in the second half and overcame eight turnovers. Junior goalie Chris Madalon had nine saves.

Bitter set the tone, and gave the Hopkins defense a handful all afternoon, both with excellent, change-of-direction moves and speed in transition. By the end of the first quarter, Bitter had a hat trick, and his third goal was a beauty. After Hopkins freshman midfielder John Greeley hit the left post, Bitter scooped up the carom at midfield, sprinted down the middle and nailed a running, 10-yarder.

“We were crossing our fingers and hoping [Bitter] could get through the whole day. We were wondering during the week if he would only be able to go on extra man,” Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. “He changes the game’s complexion. He’s a difference-maker.”

Bitter controlled the action in more ways than one. He put the Tar Heels in position to score both of their extra-man goals by drawing one-minute penalties. Freshman attackman Marcus Holman gave Carolina a 6-4 lead late in the second quarter on the first one. Then, four minutes into the second half, senior attackman Gavin Petracca made it 8-5 by converting an extra-man chance after Bitter drew a body check foul on defenseman Matt Drenan, who chased Bitter all day.

Bitter essentially ended Hopkins’ day with 6:46 left in the fourth quarter, when he sliced through the defense off a re-start, circled the net and hit a 10-foot, fadeaway to give the Tar Heels a 10-6 lead.

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