Tar Heels edge Tigers in primetime matchup
An electric atmosphere filled the Class of 1952 Stadium, where 1,717 fans attended a heavyweight bout between No. 14 Princeton (2-2) and No. 8 North Carolina (4-1). This primetime contest was billed to refresh a rivalry marked by close games and a high level of play. While the Tigers’ level of play was high, the Tar Heels just edged out the home side with a 13-11 light blue victory. In many ways, the result of Friday’s game resembles the product of last year’s thrilling contest, which the home North Carolina side won by a 16-15 margin.
Early March is hardly the time to decide a team’s fate. However, this contest appeared to hold a great deal of import for both the Tigers and Tar Heels. Both teams came out of the previous weekend with home losses to ranked opponents, and both programs have reputations incongruous with two-game losing streaks. Even having faced an incredibly high level of competition, the second consecutive home loss will give head coach Chris Bates, his staff and his players a great deal to consider as they move toward league play.
In the words of Bates, “Everything was correctable.”
Five games against UNC have resulted in five defeats in Coach Bates’ tenure. What’s more, these games have been decided by a mere combined nine goals, with three stinging one-goal losses. This loss to the Tar Heels was no less heartbreaking.
“We’re going to watch that tape,” Bates said postgame, “And it’s going to make us sick to our stomach. That’s a good team. We’d like to play them again, if we could. But I figure that we’ve gotta forge on. There’s a lot of positives to be taken. But that doesn’t make us feel better right now. It’s going to be a hard film to watch tonight.”
The fifth year head coach highlighted some encouraging play to take away from the loss. Sophomore Matt O’Connor received the start for the first time this season. His 12 saves – some of which were particularly outstanding – ties his career high.
“We decided to stay with him, which wasn’t the plan,” Bates explained. “We thought that he gave us the best chance to win. And I think [senior] Brian [Kavanagh] understood that. I’m happy for him. He stood tall and had a pretty good game.”
Additionally, Bates pointed to the high level of play provided by his close defenders. The unit of sophomore Mark Strabo and freshmen Will Reynolds and Bear Goldstein held UNC’s all-America attackmen Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey to two and one goals, respectively. Senior long stick midfielder Derick Raabe led the Tigers on the ground with six ground balls.
At the level that these two teams play, very little delineates winning and losing. A missed shot here or a lost ground ball there can swing games wildly. Such was the case on Friday. The largest leading margin was UNC’s 10-7 advantage with just under four minutes to play in the third quarter. Fifty seconds later sophomore attackman Ryan Ambler, who also tallied an assist on the day, scored to start a 4-0 Princeton run. The teams entered the final period tied at 10-10.
As the cliché goes, lacrosse is a game of runs. The four goal series by Princeton, which spanned four minutes and started at the three-minute mark in the third, gave the Tigers a one-goal advantage with 14 minutes left to play.
As so often happens, the team with the last scoring run emerged victorious. The scoreboard clock read 10:09 when UNC’s Shane Simpson scored to equalize off of an assist by Chad Tutton. It took until 3:50 remained on the clock for Tutton — a midfielder particularly lethal to the Tigers who scored the game winner in last year’s contest — to dodge from up top and rip a shot past O’Connor. The Tar Heels spent the final minutes of play running out the clock. Princeton had to empty its net in an effort to regain possession, and with 13 seconds left in the game, UNC’s Bitter found the open net for his second goal and his team’s 13th, unlucky only for Princeton.
Tar Heel Tutton’s three goals, including the go-ahead score, matched the three of Princeton’s star senior midfielder Tom Schreiber.
The three-time all-American added three assists, including a beautiful pass through UNC’s defense to find junior attackman Mike MacDonald at the 9:41 mark in the third quarter. Schreiber’s point streak continues, and his point totals of 86 goals and 82 assists continue to mark what will undoubtedly be a historic career. But if in this, his final season, he manages to lead his team victorious through its biggest games, he will be remembered as one of the sport’s greatest.
“Tom’s a playmaker,” Bates explained. “And you can tell that when the game’s on the line, his blood pressure is sky high in a good way. He helped get us back in the way. There are times when I look at him and I think, ‘Wow, I didn’t coach that.’ But Tom wants to win games like this. And he wants a couple plays back, because that’s the sort of competitor he is. That’s what makes him a special player.”
UNC’s ability to ride clears produced five turnovers for the light blue offense. These few plays helped the Tar Heels establish the edge between what were two squads very close in talent.
“There are critical moments where you just need that next step, in terms of poise,” Bates said. “Playing an ACC team and a top-ten team, you’ve gotta do that.”
Scoring totals of nine and 11 over the past two contests have seen a Princeton offense just a shade shy of its 12.07 per game average last year, though the Tigers have shown improved offensive depth this year.
“It’s constantly evolving,” Bates said of the offense. “We had a plan going in to an entire second unit: six guys coming on the field. But the flow of the game just didn’t lend itself to doing that. We’ve got some guys waiting in the wings who have been doing great things in practice. But we’ve got a pretty short bench. I’m not playing a lot of guys. I don’t think it hurt us today, but as the season wears on, I think we need to get some more guys and a deeper rotation.”
Bates also noted that he placed sophomore midfielder Jake Froccaro at attack late in the game. The sophomore drew a long stick defender where junior attackman Will Rotatori often matched up against a short stick. That adjustment in personnel may be worth consideration moving forward, in this writer’s opinion.
This coming Saturday, Princeton will host Penn in both sides’ first game of league play. The Quakers proved themselves to a dangerous side with a 12-10 upset home win over then No. 6 Denver on March 1. Faceoff between these top Ivy teams will be at 3 p.m. on the Class of 1952 Stadium’s Sherrerd Field.
Women lose to Brown for first time since 1991
In what turned out to be a trying weekend for Princeton lacrosse, the No. 16 women looked to begin Ivy League play on a positive note. Beating Brown had become more or less a formality for Princeton, which had won 23 consecutive matchups in this series. The Rhode Island side has occupied the bottom half of the league table for the past several years. However, at Providence’s Stevenson Field the Bears (4-0) managed an overtime upset win over the Tigers (1-3) by a 14-13 margin.
An equal 16 shots came for both sides in the first half-hour period, but the visiting Tigers team held a 11-7 lead going into halftime. The Bears battled back, however, with a 6-0 scoring run that opened at the 29:01 mark in the second half and lasted nearly 20 minutes.
With the Tigers trailing 13-12, freshman midfielder Anna Doherty took and converted a free position shot — this more or less equates with a penalty shot in soccer — to equalize with just over a minute to play. This goal marked her sixth of the year and eighth point.
Neither team would break the deadlock during regulation. Brown’s Bre Hudgins found the net for her third goal of the day with 0:32 left in the first sudden-victory overtime period.
In the second period, Princeton converted only one of nine free position opportunities. Brown’s Kellie Roddy, who managed a fairly spectacular nine saves in the second half, deserves credit for stopping four of these nine penalty attempts. Still, the Tigers will wish to have some of those shots back.
Sophomore attack Alexandra Bruno continued to demonstrate a scoring touch. She notched a hat trick on the day and her nine goals lead the Tigers through four games.
Senior goalie Caroline Franke, who has started in all four Princeton contests, yielded her spot in the crease to junior Annie Woehling after 44 minutes of play had elapsed. Franke recorded 10 goals against and three saves, while Woehling notched only one save to Brown’s four goals against.
It is very likely that after this loss, the Princeton side which was ranked No. 16 by the Coaches’ Poll and No. 19 by the Brine Women’s Media Poll, will fall out of the top 20. Although a difficult schedule has pitted the Tigers against top competition, they will need to rediscover their winning ways if they hope to keep pace in a winnable Ivy League.