CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The #10 nationally-ranked Lehigh men’s lacrosse team led 2-1 after a quarter, but #1 ranked and #5 seed UNC used a 5-0 surge in the second to take a lead that it wouldn’t relinquish as the Mountain Hawks fell 16-7 on Saturday afternoon in the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore Matt Poillon was stellar between the pipes with a career-high 17 saves while senior David DiMaria ended a strong career with two goals and three assists. The loss snapped the Mountain Hawks’ seven-game winning streak as they end their second straight Patriot League Championship campaign with a 12-5 record.
“I really am proud of the team’s effort all season long and apologize to them for the way the game ended,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “I don’t think that’s an accurate representation of what we’ve done all year long. We’ve battled, we’ve scrapped and that’s how I’d like this team to be remembered. I’m really proud of them for their efforts over the course of the year. I’m focused on that.”
Lehigh wouldn’t quit after going down 6-2 as the Mountain Hawks pulled within two (at 6-4 and 7-5), but the Tar Heels scored seven of the game’s final eight goals to erase any doubt.
Sophomore Patrick Corbett scored two goals while senior Kyle Stiefel and sophomore Klay Heston added the others. DiMaria’s five points put him over 70 for the season at 73 (33 goals, 40 assists).
“We just got outplayed,” said Cassese. “It was pretty simple for the eyes to see. That’s a great team over there; there’s a reason they’re ranked #1 in the country and they played every bit like that today. When they play with that much energy and ferocity, it’s tough to compete with. I think they’re going to be one of the favorites moving forward.”
North Carolina had 11 different goal scorers led by five points (one goal, four assists) from Marcus Holman.
“UNC approached the game with the right mindset,” said Cassese. “To beat our defense, you need to share the ball, move the ball quickly and find open man. I thought they did that really well. They also really capitalized when the game was scrambling. The unsettled situations - faceoff play, the ride. When the game tilted in their favor, they were coming up with those plays.”
Lehigh came out strong in the first quarter to take a 2-1 lead after 15 minutes of play. DiMaria got the scoring started by grabbing his own rebound and putting one past UNC goalie Kieran Burke to make it 1-0 at the 9:35 mark. UNC quickly answered, but Corbett finished a behind-the-back goal to make it 2-1 at 6:35.
After almost eight minutes without a goal, Holman beat Poillon to tie the score at two. That began a 5-0 Tar Heels’ run in the span of 3:46 to take a 6-2 advantage with 10:11 on the clock. Lehigh wouldn’t go away, getting goals from Corbett (his second) and senior Dante Fantoni to pull within two with 6:07 on the clock. UNC answered with 1:29 remaining to take a 7-4 lead at the half.
Stiefel fired a man-up goal past Burke just nine seconds into the second half to make it 7-5, but Steve Pontrello responded 1:38 later to make it 8-5. DiMaria scored on an impressive individual effort for a 9-6 lead but the Tar Heels began to pull away with three in a row for a 12-6 advantage. DiMaria found Heston on an unsettled situation to make it 12-7, but it wasn’t nearly enough as UNC closed the game on a 4-0 run.
Final shots were 53-30 in favor of UNC while groundballs were 38-25 Tar Heels. Lehigh was 1-for-4 on the extra man while North Carolina was 2-for-5. Poillon’s 17 saves came across Burke who made eight.
Lehigh wraps up its second straight Patriot League Championship and NCAA Tournament campaign with a 12-5 record, becoming the first team in the league with back-to-back championships since Navy six years ago.