February 28, 2016
Steve Pontrello scored three second-half goals Sunday in North Carolina's 15-10 victory at Johns Hopkins. (John Strohsacker)
Steve Pontrello scored three second-half goals Sunday in North Carolina's 15-10 victory at Johns Hopkins. (John Strohsacker)

Carolina Quiets Naysayers with Strong Finish at Hopkins

by Patrick Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

BALTIMORE — Joe Breschi's North Carolina team spent the previous two hours uncorking a spirited rejoinder to a shaky performance last weekend. It was time for a joyful response from the coach, too.

A gleeful Breschi beamed after the Tar Heels earned a 15-11 victory over Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field on Sunday, ecstatic not just about the outcome but also how it was earned.

North Carolina was aggressive, resilient and balanced — the exact traits that were absent a week ago in a 10-5 loss to Hofstra and also, not coincidentally, some of the biggest priorities this season for a team reshaping its identity after considerable graduation losses.

"They're hearing it on TV, announcers saying they're soft, they don't have the guts," Breschi said. "These guys responded like men. ... Our guys scored the last five goals of the game. What a great, gutsy — gutsy, write that, gutsy — effort. It's a great lesson for our guys that if you practice that way, you're going to play that way, and it'll give us the best chance to compete and win."

Chris Cloutier scored four goals for the Tar Heels (3-1), who have won five years in a row against the Blue Jays and have claimed the last four meetings played at Homewood.

Shack Stanwick had two goals and five assists for Hopkins (1-2), which erased an early 4-0 deficit and took its only lead at 11-10 before the Tar Heels controlled the final 10 minutes.

As stout as North Carolina was at the start, it left its greatest impression in how it finished off the Blue Jays. After unraveling early in the fourth quarter and giving up a pair of extra-man goals (the second shortly after the Tar Heels were flagged for an illegal body check as Hopkins tied the score), there was little sign of panic from Breschi's bunch.

"After last week, once we got down, I think we were like 'Oh, shoot, we have to get it all back at once,'" junior midfielder Michael Tagliaferri said. "I know today, after we were up 4-0, we treated it like it was 0-0."

Cloutier tied it up soon enough right off a Hopkins turnovers, one of 17 Blue Jay giveaways for the afternoon, and Tagliaferri provided a go-ahead score with 6:57 to go off Shane Simpson's nifty pass into the interior. Simpson scored again less than a minute later and the Tar Heels largely controlled possession the rest of the way.

Carolina remained assertive, a trait ingrained in the program as the likes of Jimmy Bitter, Joey Sankey and Chad Tutton commanded plenty of attention and handled much of the scoring. The Tar Heels might not enjoy an offensive figure as charismatic as any of those three this season, but it was impossible not to notice the Tar Heels' five multi-goal scorers against Hopkins.

"The previous few years, we had a couple guys carrying the load mostly, but this year I think we're more balanced in our attack and our midfield," Simpson said. "It's going to make us a lot harder to play down the road when teams have to scout deep into our second and even third midfield line and five or six attackmen."

North Carolina coach Joe Breschi rejoices with his players Sunday at Homewood Field. (John Strohsacker)

The Tar Heels didn't require production from quite that deep on their roster Sunday, though they might in time. What was necessary as the season's opening month reached its conclusion was some validation, especially after a trying week in the wake of their first loss.

They got it against a Hopkins team that dropped its second consecutive game and played erratically, particularly early.

"Carolina's a good team," Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "Did you think they were going to come in here and not play their asses off? I watched the film. Hofstra played harder than they did. Did you really think they weren't going to come out here and play hard? They did. We needed to play a little bit harder, and we needed to play more disciplined and better."

Indeed, Pietramala repeatedly revisited the theme of discipline. He shrugged off injuries for attackmen Ryan Brown and Wilkins Dismuke and midfielder John Crawley, none of whom practiced last week. That's on top of the absences of the injured Alex Concannon and Connor Reed and the ineligible Joel Tinney.

"It may be a mishmash group offensively, but you know what? The mishmash group offensively scored 11 goals," Pietramala said. "Defense didn't do their job. I don't think we were missing anybody there."

The guys North Carolina might miss at times have graduated. There was no Bitter, no Sankey, no Tutton to bail out the Tar Heels against Hofstra, and they paid dearly for not embracing the need for balance.

A little more than a week of reflection and work later, Carolina appeared to take a step forward. It might be February, but it's still a promising development.

"Guys are continuing to learn how to perform at a high level and step up," Breschi said. "We challenged them, and they responded. So I am maybe as proud as I've ever been as a Tar Heel coach."

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