April 4, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tenth-ranked North Carolina fell barely short against No. 1-ranked and undefeated Virginia, losing 11-10 in the inaugural Big City Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. in collegiate lacrosse action Saturday afternoon before a crowd estimated around 20,000.

Virginia improves to 12-0 on the season and 2-0 in the ACC. North Carolina falls to 8-4 and 0-3 in the ACC. The Tar Heels will next be in action against Ohio State next Saturday at Calvert Hall High School in Baltimore, Md. That game starts at 1 p.m.

UNC took the unbeaten Wahoos to the wire and had two shots in the final 30 seconds turned away by Virginia goalkeeper Adam Ghitelman and another one blocked by the Wahoos' defense. The Tar Heels had to play most of the game minus two starting defensemen and they lost their four-year starting goalkeeper, Grant Zimmerman, early in the second quarter after he had saved seven of his first nine shots against him.

Billy Bitter had a career high five goals to lead the Tar Heels' offensive effort while Bart Wagner had two goals and Sean Delaney, Gavin Petracca and Michael Burns each had one goal for the Heels. Delaney had two assists for North Carolina while Sean Burke and Bobby McAuley also had assists. Shamel Bratton and Danny Glading had three goals each and Brian Carroll and Garrett Billings each scored twice for the Cavaliers.

Carolina has non-conference games against Ohio State and Hofstra coming up the next two Saturdays before

Virginia jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the early stages of the first quarter on a goal by attackman Garrett Billings that barely went over the line and another less than a minute later by attackman Danny Glading. On that play, UNC starting defenseman Charlie McComas suffered a shoulder injury and missed the rest of the game, leading the Tar Heels to use Andrew Pyke and Milton Lyles the remainder of the game. In addition, UNC senior starter Jack Ryan has been out since the Duke game March 14 with Michael Jarvis taking his starting place in the lineup for the third straight game.

Carolina was able to rally, however, and it scored three goals to take a 3-2 after the first quarter. Billy Bitter scored the first goal after he recovered a ground ball and scored on a quick shot over Virginia goalkeeper Adam Ghitelman's head. The Tar Heels then tied the game on a goal in transition by redshirt sophomore short-stick midfielder Michael Burns, his third goal of the season. Later in the quarter, after a pass interception by Ryan Flanagan, it was Billy Bitter again who scored his 22nd goal of the game, this one unassisted, to give the Tar Heels a 3-2 advantage.

Virginia outshot the Tar Heels 11-10 in the first quarter, but UNC's Grant Zimmmerman made five saves in the period to keep the Tar Heels ahead. It was only the second time this season the top-ranked Wahoos trailed after the first quarter of a game.

The Tar Heels extended their lead to 5-2 by scoring the first two goals of the second quarter. UNC scored an extra-man goal early in the quarter as Bart Wagner tallied off an assist by junior midfielder Sean Delaney. Shortly after that, Billy Bitter executed a nifty dodge for his third goal of the opening half. With 9:58 left in the first half, UNC lost four-year starting goalkeeper Grant Zimmerman when his knee buckled on a play just outside the crease. Zimmerman had to leave the game at that point after saving seven of the first nine shots on goal against him. True freshman James Petracca had to come into the game at that point after only playing 13 minutes previously in his UNC career. Petracca went the last 39:58 of the game, making 11 saves while allowing nine goals.

The Hoos made it 5-3 with 9:09 left in the half on an unassisted goal by Danny Glading. The Tar Heels bounced back to score the next two goals with Bitter dodging again to score his fourth goal of the game at 8:19 of the quarter. At 6:16, Sean Delaney scored an unassisted goal to make it 7-3 in favor of the Tar Heels.

Virginia rallied to score the next three goals before halftime as the Wahoos were able to keep the ball away from the Tar Heel offense for a period of five plus minutes. Shamel Bratton scored all three goals in the run on individual efforts at 5:45, 5:07 and 2:35 to make it 7-6 in favor of the Heels at intermission.

UVa finished off a five-goal run with back-to-back goals early in the third quarter, one by Brian Carroll at 13:27, and another by John Haldy at 9:32 to regain the lead at 8-7. Bitter, however, came back for the Heels with his fifth goal of the game off an assist by Bobby McAuley to tie the game at 8-8 with 3:46 left in the period. About two minutes later, UVa took the lead for good on Brian Carroll's unassisted goal, making it 9-8 heading into the final period.

Danny Glading's goal just 14 seconds into the fourth quarter made it 10-8 in favor of Virginia, leading to a see-saw fourth quarter between the two teams. At 10:33, UNC's Gavin Petracca scored off an assist from Sean Burke to cut the UVa lead to a single goal. That goal was matched 34 seconds later by UVa as Garrett Billings scored from an assist by Bratton.

The final goal of the game came at 8:05 as Bart Wagner scored his second man-up goal of the game off Sean Delaney's second assist of the contest.

Petracca made two saves for the Tar Heels shortly after Wagner's goal that before UNC's Sean Delaney hit the pipe with a potential game-tying shot with 4:53 to play. Virginia's Brian Carroll hit the pipe on the other end with 2:52 to play and after Andrew Pyke claimed a ground ball, Delaney and Gavin Petracca had shots go wide at 2:30 and 1:56. Virginia got the ball back and cleared it but Michael Jarvis caused a turnover and Ryan Flanagan claimed a ground ball, leading to a Tar Heel timeout at 1:09. UNC had three shots in the final 29 seconds. Delaney's shot was blocked but Jimmy Dunster claimed a ground ball and Ben Hunt's ensuing shot was saved by Ghitelman with 23 seconds to play. Virginia's clear failed with Ryan Flanagan gaining the ground ball off Ghitelman's turnover. UNC had one last chance but Bart Wagner's shot at the buzzer was turned away by Ghitelman and Virginia had its third straight regular-season win over the Tar Heels by a one-goal margin.

Virginia outshot the Tar Heels 45-40 but UNC's goalkeeping was a key to keeping the game to a one-goal margin. The Tar Heels had 18 saves on Virginia's 29 shots on goal. Ghitelman made 11 saves while allowing 10 goals for Virginia. UNC won the ground balls for the 12th game in a row this season 41-39 and the Tar Heels had a 14-11 edge in face-offs won. UNC scored both extra-man goals of the game.

UNC was hurt by 20 turnovers to 13 for Virginia and the Heels had six failed clears compared to only two for Virginia.

Getting to New York to play the game was an adventure in itself for the Tar Heels. The Carolina team had to endure 11 hours worth of flight delays Friday before finally arriving at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City at 11:08 p.m. Friday night. They had to regroup quickly Saturday to prepare for a 12 noon ESPNU national telecast starting time.