March 29, 2014

Sankey, Tar Heels Hang Up Blue Jays at Homewood

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Joey Sankey scored a career-high five goals in North Carolina's 13-9 on Saturday at Johns Hopkins, none more notable than a timer-on call after an extended hang up play. (John Strohsacker/

BALTIMORE — Joey Sankey had everyone watching him. The roughly 2,000 spectators at a rainy Homewood Field, players and coaches on both the North Carolina and Johns Hopkins' sidelines, the officials, a national-television audience on ESPNU — and especially Blue Jays long-stick midfielder Mike Pellegrino.

"Hung," Johns Hopkins goalie Eric Schneider yelled as an alert for the Blue Jays' defense.

For about two continuous minutes afterward during the early fourth quarter of North Carolina's 13-9 win against No. 10 Johns Hopkins on Saturday, Sankey held the ball behind the Johns Hopkins cage and a turned-around Schneider, while Pellegrino, in charge of marking North Carolina's jitterbug attackman all afternoon, was hung-up on the wrong side of the net.

Sankey kept his head up looking for an open cutter. He darted to the left, the right, and back again one-handed, as if he were going to try to dump in a wraparound chance. Time ticked off the scoreboard, under 10 minutes, under nine, while back-and-forth North Carolina's five other offensive players went, cutting in and out of screens topside, trying to free themselves for a look.

The three officials closed in tight on the play, but a stall warning would not come, as Sankey knew, based on a rule interpretation change prior to the season. His teammates were still running around trying to get open. The five other Johns Hopkins defenders supporting Pellegrino were about the only ones not watching Sankey with full focus, as they worked hard enough to switch on all picks by their own men. "Dig in, dig in," defenseman Jack Reilly said. "It felt very, very long."

Then, finally, Pellegrino relented and chased. A 30-second timer was immediately enforced. The ball headed over to the sideline then North Carolina attackman Pat Foster beat his man, Pellegrino slid to him, and Foster fed an open Sankey on the crease. No help came.

Sankey threw in his fourth of what was a career-high five goals for the junior on Saturday. It came during a 9-1 North Carolina run covering most of the second half, which ultimately did in Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays dropped their third consecutive game, each against a top-10 opponent, after winning five straight to open the year. The fourth-ranked Tar Heels improved to 8-2 in the steady, windy drizzle in Baltimore, a week after a win against then-No. 1 Maryland.

"Overall, a great team win," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "It's another step forward for the team."

Sankey matched a career-high with seven points, and scored two first-half goals and three in the second, including another timer-on score two minutes after the hang-up seen 'round Homewood. The ensuing goal was certainly a dagger thrown by North Carolina into the Blue Jays, but it wasn't the only one, and some were self-inflicted.

Johns Hopkins faceoff man Drew Kennedy won 13 of 14 first-half faceoffs, and finished 20-for-26, but after the Blue Jays went up 7-4 with 5:27 left before half, Johns Hopkins didn't score again for another 22 minutes, 20 seconds. By then, North Carolina had scored six straight, led 10-8 and was in the middle of its game-defining run, highlighted by Sankey and a timely goal by Tar Heels senior faceoff man R.G. Keenan, who is working back into the fold from a leg injury.

In his first extended action since the Tar Heels' season-opener, Keenan won a draw, went right to the cage uncovered and put the Tar Heels up 10-7 with 1:55 left in the third. The North Carolina bench erupted with joy as the senior looked like the "old R.G," as Breschi said after. Meanwhile, the air went out of the Blue Jays' balloon. Hopkins shot 0-for-12 in the third quarter.

"In the second half, we're fighting a battle where we can't get out of our own way," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "It's too many mistakes. It's no one guy. It's a team thing. We're making too many errors and we're making them at critical times."

"It may be a shot that you don't cash in when we should cash in a critical moment," he said. "It may be a pass in the clearing game that should hit, but we don't at a critical moment. It may be a slide that we should have. The faceoff guy came down ... the game plan wasn't to let him shoot it. It was to go him early, recover to a point and have them throw it back to him. ... Collectively we are making critical errors at really important times. We've been in a position to win against Syracuse, Virginia and to a certain point, this game. Those things just pile up."

Keenan only finished 6 of 19, and the Tar Heels used three other specialists (none of whom won a single draw) but it was enough on this day as the Tar Heels took advantage in the third quarter, with Keenan winning 4 of 6.

"Any time it's an even possession battle regarding the faceoff X, we feel pretty good about our chances," Breschi said. "We executed, had some unsettled opportunities. We attacked on offense. We played really strong that third quarter. Kieran Burke made a couple saves. Overall we executed as we're capable of."

In a game of matchups, both sides felt they did pretty good on the opposition's knowns. North Carolina attackman Jimmy Bitter and midfielder Chad Tutton were each held to a goal, and although Sankey went off on a career-day, Pietramala said he thought Pellegrino did a good job individually against him, but collectively the defense wasn't good enough. Sankey said he was surprised with the Pellegrino matchup, and that it was not one of the Blue Jays' close defensemen. North Carolina put 20 of its relatively-low 29 shots on goal.

The Blue Jays took 40 shots. Wells Stanwick had one goal and two assists, Brandon Benn two goals and sharpshooting attackman Ryan Brown scored only one goal, which didn't come until early in the fourth quarter. The Tar Heels' limited Johns Hopkins early offense opportunities in the second half. Smart slides and quality coverage by close defensemen Jordan Smith, Austin Pifani, Jake Bailey and the rest of the Tar Heels' crew helped Burke's save total grow to 10 by the finish.

"It's just guys buying-in," short-stick midfielder Ryan Creighton said. "Six-on-six, our whole scheme is we defend whoever has the ball in their stick with six guys, so they know they have support, I guess seven with Burkey in the goal. ... A month ago, we had two games that we let up on the defensive end, you would say. We've learned and gotten better."

As for the hang-up play, last year perhaps a stall warning would have been put on. After the NCAA rules committee enacted a 30-second timer-on after stall call, there were some nuances to work out. Breschi said a season ago, he and his coaches would have yelled for the timer in the situation Sankey found himself in, had it been the opposing team. While many in the stands at Homewood did just that on Saturday anyway, neither side did. The Blue Jays staff watched along, too.

"I felt bad for our five guys," Sankey said of his thoughts during the time. "Their job is to get open and keep moving and Pellegrino wasn't coming behind. I've never done something like that before. It's Hopkins' job to come behind the net. They were hanging in front of the goal. Coach Breschi talked about how the refs made an emphasis this year, how the [defense has] to come behind the cage. If we're moving up top, it's their job to come behind and they weren't doing that."

Patience proved to be a virtue. On the other side, the play reflected an issue.

"That's not easy to stay with those guys and play a 5-man screen game for over a minute ... but we do it and then we don't reward ourselves," Pietramala said. "Those are defining moments that I'm talking about. We do a good job and we don't cash in."

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