Final Four Drought Over for UNC Men’s Lacrosse: Tar Heels Crush Notre Dame

Eight times since 1993 the UNC men’s lacrosse team reached the NCAA Quarterfinals, only to come up short on each occasion.

After starting 2016 with a 3-3 record–and minus some of its most talented players from last season–few would have expected this group of Tar Heels to do any different.

Two months later, here we are. The ninth time was the charm.

UNC is heading to the Final Four after Sunday’s 13-9 victory over the No. 3  Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the preseason national title favorite.

Steve Pontrello (0) scored four goals on Sunday to lead UNC's explosive attack against Notre Dame. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Steve Pontrello (0) scored four goals on Sunday to lead UNC’s explosive attack against Notre Dame. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Playing at the famed Ohio Stadium in Columbus–where head coach Joe Breschi once led the Ohio State Buckeyes–the Tar Heels (10-6) absolutely dominated the Fighting Irish (11-4) from start to finish in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score suggests.

“There was no pressure on them,” Breschi said in his TV interview after the game. “We’ve just competed every week.

“We had a heart-to-heart after we were 3-3,” an emotional Breschi continued. “These guys…I love all of them.”

Senior attacker Steve Pontrello scored four goals in the second half for UNC, while Chris Cloutier–a sophomore from Ontario, Canada–got the team off to a flying start by tallying all three of his goals in the first half, including one incredible play where he scored with a nifty, behind-the-back shot.

Luke Goldstock and Michael Tagliaferri each added two goals apiece–with Patrick Kelly also scoring once–as the Tar Heels simply overwhelmed Notre Dame with their fast-paced offensive attack.


By pushing the ball downfield before their opponents had a chance to get set, UNC generated a number of high-percentage opportunities on net–which they consistently took advantage of.

Stephen Kelly's faceoff dominance allowed UNC to keep getting the ball in good scoring position. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Stephen Kelly’s faceoff dominance allowed UNC to keep getting the ball in good scoring position. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Notre Dame tied the game 2-2 just before the end of the first quarter, but the Tar Heels then reeled off a stunning 8-0 run over the next 29 minutes– a span that lasted nearly two full quarters.

With junior Stephen Kelly continually winning in the face-off circle after each UNC goal, it made it seem like the game was being played–for a little while, at least–under “make it, take it” rules.

Only once the outcome was no longer in doubt did the Fighting Irish start to make a run. Notre Dame had a 6-1 edge in fourth quarter scoring, and scored the final five goals of the game.

Not once, though, did UNC ever feel threatened.

The Tar Heels were content to just pass the ball around over the final 15 minutes, making sure there would be no funny business preventing them from the upset win.

Breschi teared up on the sidelines when the clock finally ran out, as the coach had finally achieved the goal of returning his alma mater–where he’s been the head man since leaving Ohio State in 2009–to Championship Weekend.

He was also back in the state where his 3-year-old son, Michael, was killed in 2004 after being struck by an SUV in a parking lot outside his preschool.

“Patrick Kelly spoke at breakfast this morning and dedicated the game to my son,” Breschi said, choking up on camera. “I’m just so proud of them. Go Heels.”


Up Next:

UNC returns to action Saturday May 28 in Philadelphia, where it will take on the winner of the game between Towson and Loyola (Md).

Game Notes:

  • The Tar Heels defeated Notre Dame 17-15 in first meeting between the teams in 2016 back on April 23–the final game of the regular season.
  • Pontrello’s four goals were scored consecutively, including one where he ran 30 yards backwards to dodge a double team before scoring on an open net.
  • Both the men’s and women’s Tar Heel lacrosse teams will be in Philly to compete for National Championships.




UNC Women’s Lacrosse Final Four Bound After 10-6 Win Over Notre Dame

Facing a Notre Dame team that averages nearly 14 goals per game, the No. 3 UNC women’s lacrosse team locked down defensively Saturday to knock off the No. 6 Fighting Irish 10-6 at Fetzer Field in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.

With the win, the Tar Heels (18-2) advance to next weekend’s Final Four in Philadelphia–making their second straight appearance in the semifinals, and third in the last four seasons.

The duo of Marie McCool and Molly Hendrick–who were each recently named First Team All-Americans–combined for half of UNC’s scoring against Notre Dame (14-7).

Two of McCool’s three goals came during the final 30 minutes, while Hendrick scored once during each half.

Five other players chipped in a goal to the Tar Heel cause, as UNC displayed a brilliant offensive attack–passing the ball brilliantly to avoid a physical Fighting Irish team that likes to defend by poking the ball out from behind.

Molly Hendrick scored two of UNC's 10 goals on Saturday, as the Tar Heels advanced to Philadelphia for the Final Four. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Molly Hendrick scored two of UNC’s 10 goals on Saturday, as the Tar Heels advanced to Philadelphia for the Final Four. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

As good as UNC was on offense, though, it was its defense that stole the show–much like it did in their 14-8 win over Notre Dame on April 3.

After taking a 6-4 lead into the break, UNC stormed out of the locker room and suffocated the Fighting Irish attack.

The Tar Heels still continued to score as well, building a  10-5 lead over the next 27 minutes.

Notre Dame’s Kiera McMullan scored the game’s final goal with under three minutes remaining, but the outcome was no longer in doubt.

McMullan was one of just two Fighting Irish players–along with Cortney Fortunato–to find the back of the net twice.

It was a script similar to their win over Duke in the previous round for the Tar Heels. They built a slim lead after a competitive first half before, holding their opponent to just two goals in the second half.

In each game, UNC was clearly the more dominant, well-rounded, team–displaying a solid mix of offense and defense that its opponents simply haven’t been able to match.

Their reward?

A chance to make some noise at the Final Four in Philly, against the three best teams the nation has to offer.

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will play Penn State in their National Semifinal game on Friday, May 27.

Game Notes:

  • UNC has trailed for just 58 seconds in its two NCAA Tournament games so far. Notre Dame took a 2-1 lead early in the first half Saturday, but Aly Messinger scored on the next possession to tie it up for the Tar Heels.
  • It’s the ninth appearance all-time in the Final Four for UNC’s women’s lacrosse program.




Diamond Heels Calm Down, Take Out Notre Dame for Important Series Win

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made headlines a couple seasons ago when he told fans and reporters alike to “R-E-L-A-X” following an early losing streak.

As it turns out, the UNC baseball team decided to use that same advice Monday night at Boshamer Stadium in order to win its first ACC series in over a month.

The Tar Heels snapped out of a pressure-induced hitting slump with a seven-run second inning–on the way to an 8-1 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Having totaled just seven hits in their previous two games this series, some Tar Heel players admitted that the “must-win” situation they currently find themselves in has caused them to press more than they should at the plate.

A loose mindset helped the Tar Heels find their groove against Notre Dame. (Jeffrey. A Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

A loose mindset helped the Tar Heels find their groove against Notre Dame. (Jeffrey. A Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

“We knew this was a big one,” UNC freshman third baseman Kyle Datres–who went 3-for-4 with a home run–said after the game. “We try not to look at the standings, but you come down to the end and you know you gotta bear down and get some wins.

“Instead of just playing all tense, we tried to go out there and relax [tonight],” Datres later added, with a wide smile across his face. “It’s a lot more fun that way.”

UNC head coach Mike Fox–though he doesn’t like to view things in “must-win” terms–decided to send an e-mail to his players on Sunday’s off day detailing their current situation.

He then spoke to them again before the game Monday–bringing to light a cold, hard truth.

“I did remind them today that ‘When you told me, yes you wanted to come to North Carolina, guess what? You’re under pressure,” Fox said. “The expectations are to win here. At every sport. It is what it is.”

“They don’t realize it when they say that, because they’re 15 years old,” the coach said, dryly. “But they realize it once they get here.”

An inexperienced group of Notre Dame pitchers–as much as any relaxation or coaching techniques–also played a big role in the Tar Heels’ offensive outburst. The Fighting Irish got just one inning from its starter–freshman Connor Hock (9.1 IP for his career)–before eventually using seven pitchers in the game.

Three different Tar Heels–Brian Miller, Zack Gahagan and Brandon Riley–hit two-run doubles during the second-inning outburst, while shortstop Logan Warmoth also added an RBI single.

It all started after UNC loaded the bases for Miller, putting its top hitter in a position to come through with runners in scoring position–which has been another of the team’s problem areas this season.

By the end of the frame, the Tar Heels had already amassed seven hits–matching their total from the previous 18 innings.

What pressure?

Four of the team’s players ended the game with multiple hits, as Miller and Datres led the way with three apiece.

Datres’ fifth-inning homer–his third of the season–gave UNC some extra breathing room that finally allowed the pitching staff to get in some relaxing of their own.

Right-hander Jason Morgan started on the mound for the Tar Heels, but was pulled after allowing the first two men he faced in the fourth inning to reach base.

AJ Bogucki then took over and tossed five innings of no-hit ball through the eighth to pick up the victory.

“When you go out there, and the game’s 8-0, it’s pretty hard to not be relaxed,” Bogucki said. “You know you can just throw the ball over the plate.”

Zack Gahagan drove in two runs on Monday, while also making a number of terrific defensive plays. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Zack Gahagan drove in two runs on Monday, while also making a number of terrific defensive plays. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Spencer Trayner and Hansen Butler combined to finish off the Fighting Irish in the ninth, but not before the shutout was erased by Torii Hunter Jr.’s RBI single.

It was an occasion where yet another great performance by the Tar Heel pitching staff became merely a footnote because of what was going on at the plate.

Nothing matters more for UNC right now than to get its hitters loose–and in a rhythm–down the stretch.

Entering the day, the Tar Heels found themselves in 12th place in the ACC, which matters because only the top 10 teams advance to the conference tournament in Durham.

Notre Dame was 9th in the standings, but drops out of the mix after Monday’s loss–replaced by UNC.

Usually, it’s hyperbole to think each game in a season full of them can be so important.

But for all intents and purposes, the Tar Heels’ postseason has already begun.

“It was like an elimination game,” Fox said. “It wasn’t quite that because we’ve still got three games to play, but if we’d have lost tonight that might have been….close to the nail in our coffin”

Up Next:

UNC will head to Raleigh on Thursday for the beginning of its final, and most important, series of the season against rival NC State–the nation’s No. 13 team.

Game Notes:

  • Before Monday, UNC hadn’t won an ACC series since April 8-10, when it took two of three from Virginia Tech.
  • The Tar Heels went 4-for-13 (.308) with runners in scoring position.
  • It was Logan Warmoth’s 20th multi-hit game of the season.
  • Tyler Ramirez went 0-for-2 for UNC while batting second–but drew three walks in the process.




Notre Dame Silences Tar Heel Bats, Evens Series

On Friday night Zac Gallen and Hansen Butler combined to deliver a crucial shutout victory for the UNC baseball team, despite the Tar Heel offense scoring just three runs on four hits.

Sophomore JB Bukauskas attempted to pull off the same feat on Saturday at Boshamer Stadium, but couldn’t get much in terms of run support as Notre Dame’s three-run sixth inning proved to be the difference in the Fighting Irish’s 3-1 victory.

Stuck in a stretch run marred by inconsistency at the plate, the Tar Heels now fall to 32-19 (11-15 ACC) in 2016.

The Fighting Irish, meanwhile, move to 27-23 (11-13 ACC), which actually puts them ahead of UNC in the conference standings due to the tiebreaker being winning percentage in league games.

Lefty Michael Hearne was sensational for Notre Dame, holding the Tar Heels without a hit until the bottom of the sixth inning–when freshman catcher Cody Roberts unleashed his first career home run to left field.

UNC ended up with just three hits–Roberts’ homer and infield singles by Tyler Ramirez and Logan Warmoth–which brings their total for the weekend to seven.

JB Bukauskas provided UNC with another fantastic start on Saturday against Notre Dame. A lack of run support likely cost him his seventh win of the year. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas provided UNC with another fantastic start on Saturday against Notre Dame. A lack of run support likely cost him his seventh win of the year. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

“I think we’re just putting way too much pressure on ourselves,” Roberts said after the game. “If we could score those runs we were scoring early in the season [we’d be alright].

“I think now we’re pressing so hard to try and get those wins that we’re waiting until the sixth or seventh inning to get those runs.”

The lack of offensive firepower prevented Bukauskas from earning his seventh win of the season for the Tar Heels, which seemed as if it could have been a sure thing given the way the sophomore dominated the first five innings.

Through the first half of the game, the Ashburn, Virginia native surrendered just two hits–matching Hearne’s dominance every step of the way.

However, a two-run blast by Notre Dame center fielder Matt Vierling in the sixth inning completely flipped the game on its head–taking momentum away from a UNC team that has relied heavily on its pitching in ACC play.

“I can’t really do anything about the ‘no runs,'” Bukauskas said when asked how Vierling’s big swing affected momentum. “We’re just struggling really bad at the plate right now. Their guy [Hearne] was really crafty.

“But [the home run] didn’t affect me too much out on the mound,” he continued. “It was just a bad pitch. I left it out over the plate. It happens. It was just a bad time for it.”

Cole Daily, the Fighting Irish third baseman, singled home the visitors’ third run of the game later in the frame with a hard liner up the middle–all but ensuring it would be Bukauskas’ final inning of the night, considering he had reached the 100 pitch mark.

After Roberts homered for UNC in the bottom half of the sixth, Ramirez and Warmoth opened the seventh with their back-to-back infield hits.

A sacrifice bunt by freshman Brandon Riley then moved the tying run to second base with just one out, before Hearne got Zack Gahagan to strike out swinging and forced Eli Sutherland to fly out.

Ramirez and Warmoth ended up being the last base runners UNC was able to get, as reliever Sean Guenther came on in the eighth inning and retired all six men he faced to shut the door on his first save of the year.

The lack of pop from the Tar Heel bats has the team on the verge of missing the ACC Tournament for the first time under head coach Mike Fox.

Tyler Ramirez (left) and Logan Warmoth (right) were the only Tar Heels besides Cody Roberts to get a hit Saturday against Notre Dame. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Tyler Ramirez (left) and Logan Warmoth (right) were the only Tar Heels besides Cody Roberts to get a hit Saturday against Notre Dame. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

With only 11 wins in conference, UNC will likely need to win at least two more to reach 13–which was the minimum number won by any of the league’s 10 participants last year.

Not only that, the players, especially the hitters, know what’s at stake.

If they can’t qualify for their own conference tournament, there’s a slim chance that they are still able to qualify for the NCAA Tournament–despite having a number of quality wins this season outside the league.

“That’s on them,” Tar Heel head coach Mike Fox said about his players feeling the pressure. “We’re in this position because we’re in this position. I don’t know how to undo that.

“I can tell the kids to relax, but it’s them in the box,” the coach continued. “They gotta breathe, and they gotta try to have good at-bats.”

Up Next:

Jason Morgan will head to the mound on Monday night for the Tar Heels in front of a national television audience, hoping to give UNC its first ACC series win in over a month.

That game, UNC’s home finale this season, is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • The Tar Heels only struck out four times in the game, despite not being able to get many hits to fall.
  • Bukauskas’ eight strikeouts bring his total to 102 for the season, good enough for the ACC lead in that category.
  • UNC had a chance to add a run in the fourth inning, but Brian Miller was thrown out at home as part of a rare “4-6-3-2” double play.



UNC Baseball Shuts Out Notre Dame, Earns Crucial Victory

Entering Friday night’s game against Notre Dame, the UNC baseball team needed a win in the worst way.

Instead of panicking, though, the Tar Heels simply rode the back of their calmest player–junior right-hander Zac Gallen–to a 3-0 shutout win over the Fighting Irish.

UNC improves to 32-18 (11-14 ACC) with the win, while Notre Dame drops to 26-23 (10-13 ACC).

In what was likely his final start at Boshamer Stadium, Gallen–who is projected to be taken in the first four rounds of June’s MLB Draft–threw eight scoreless innings of two-hit ball on 115 pitches, as he also struck out eight hitters in the victory.

Eli Sutherland and the rest of the UNC infield was kept busy against Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish struggled to find holes. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Eli Sutherland and the rest of the UNC infield was kept busy against Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish struggled to find holes. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

“As the weeks go on you kinda think ‘Alright this one’s important,'” Gallen said after the game. “But as the season goes on they get even more important. So I’m just glad we’re getting to start off on a good note on Friday night.”

The first 14 Notre Dame hitters came up short against the Gibbsboro, New Jersey native, who was perfect through the first half of the game.

A double by Fighting Irish shortstop Lane Richards with two outs in the fifth inning ended any hope of a no-hitter, but it failed to get Gallen out of his rhythm.

Only the UNC coaching staff was able to stop Gallen, since the shorter turnaround before the start of next week’s series against NC State meant that eight innings and 115 pitches were more than enough.

And while the Tar Heel offense was held to just four hits, they were still able to give their ace enough run support to get the job done.

Tyler Ramirez drew a bases-loaded walk in the third inning, which set-up sophomore shortstop Logan Warmoth’s sacrifice fly on the very next at-bat–making it 2-0 in favor of UNC

Warmoth, who hit a walk-off home run last weekend against Louisville, then homered for the second straight weekend in the eighth inning to give closer Hansen Butler some insurance.

The secret to Warmoth’s recent success?

Like Gallen, he’s taking a calmer approach to the game–according to Tar Heel head coach Mike Fox.

Unlike Gallen, though, that’s not Warmoth’s natural personality.

“If it was legal, we’d give him a Valium–or like half of one–every time he’s on deck,” Fox said about his young shortstop. “He’s just so anxious. We finally got him to quit putting on his helmet and batting gloves five or six batters before he was supposed to hit–literally.”

A calmer approach at the plate let Logan Warmoth drive in two of UNC's three runs against Notre Dame on Friday. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

A calmer approach at the plate let Logan Warmoth drive in two of UNC’s three runs against Notre Dame on Friday. (Joe Bray/ UNC Athletics)

Whatever it is, Warmoth’s two RBIs helped UNC take advantage of yet another outstanding effort by Gallen, something that had to happen if the Tar Heels plan on making a late push to get into the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.

It was only fitting that in one of the most high-pressure situations the team has faced all season that the calmest player in the locker room was helped by the most anxious player in the locker room.

“It’s tough to tell yourself that you have to win, but for us we do,” Warmoth said. “It’s in the back of everyone’s head that we have to win. There’s still some things that could happen in the league, but like Coach has said, Virginia [which won the national title a year ago] had the worst record in the league at this point last year.

“We’ve just gotta get it going like we had it at the beginning of the year,” he continued, referencing the team’s 18-2 start. “That team, I know will go far.”

Up Next:

UNC and Notre Dame will meet on Saturday for game two of the series, with first pitch set for 6 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • The Tar Heels move to 9-17 this season when scoring five or fewer runs in a game.
  • Notre Dame second baseman Cavan Biggio, the son of MLB Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio, went 0-for-3 in the game.
  • It was Gallen’s second start this season where he went at least eight innings without allowing a run He went the full nine in a shutout against Virginia Tech earlier this year.



Final Four Bound! UNC’s Win Over Notre Dame Provides Much-Needed Relief

After his team’s 88-74 victory in Philadelphia over No. 6 seed Notre Dame in the East Regional Final on Sunday night—it’s safe to say that UNC head coach Roy Williams might finally be able to get some sleep.

His top-seeded Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.

The last four years have been a long–often draining–journey for Williams and his team, as they’ve dealt with issues both on and off the court.

Despite not having won a championship of any kind entering the year, this group of Tar Heels—led by seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige–seems destined to win them all this season.

Marcus Paige (5), along with the rest of UNC's roster, can finally take the Final Four monkey of their backs. (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige (5), along with the rest of UNC’s roster, can finally take the Final Four monkey of their backs. (Todd Melet)

That, more than anything else, is what has made this such an emotional run thus far for Williams.

“I’ve never wanted anything in my life for someone else as much as I wanted to get this bunch to the Final Four,” Williams said after the game.

“I’m corny. I’m old fashioned. I’m anything you want to say, but fortunately for me I was very lucky to have had some big time players,” the coach added–referring to his seven previous Final Four trips.

In the first half on Sunday, Johnson was the only big-time player Williams needed against the Fighting Irish—as the rangy 6-foot-10 forward showed off a wide array of NBA-level post moves and jumpers, scoring 15 of his team-high 25 points in the period.

The second half, though, provided an example of how Johnson has helped age Williams significantly in recent years.

After stretching a five-point halftime lead to 11, the Tar Heels allowed Notre Dame to take the lead with a 12-0 run—highlighted by Johnson’s technical foul, which he got for tossing the ball in frustration after being called for another foul he didn’t like.

Williams benched Johnson for a few minutes, but put him back in to help his teammates score on 13 consecutive possessions following the technical—a run dominant enough to put Notre Dame away for good.

“It was really dumb on my part to put my team in a situation like that,” Johnson said, following an apology. “Being a leader on this team I don’t want to do that and have myself not be in the game and hurting [the team] at the same time by getting a tech.

Notre Dame big man Zach Auguste was limited to just five points thanks to foul trouble. (Todd Melet)

Notre Dame big man Zach Auguste was limited to just five points thanks to foul trouble. (Todd Melet)

“But my teammates did a good job of just playing,” he added. “They really stepped up in a time of need.”

Each of the Tar Heels’ starting five scored in double figures for the second straight outing, as they rolled to yet another double-digit tournament victory—the team’s fourth in as many games this year.

That surely has made it easy on Williams, their notoriously invested coach with two bad knees, since he often likes to jump and squat during pressure-packed moments.

Instead he was able to give his players even more.

Lovable sophomore Theo Pinson finally got the press conference seat he so badly desired after he made a number of big hustle plays down the stretch, while Johnson and Paige each were taken out of the game to large ovations.

“With 34 seconds left I started tearing up,” Paige said. “Everyone was getting real excited, I was looking over at the bench and guys were jumping around, and my family was right behind the bench.

“I was just so overwhelmed and excited that I’m glad Coach took me out,” he continued. “Because I probably would have done something stupid.”

Williams stands with his team as they pose with the Regional Championship trophy. (Todd Melet)

Williams stands with his team as they pose with the Regional Championship trophy. (Todd Melet)

It was fitting in the postgame celebrations that Williams cut open his hand just like he cut open his tongue when he bit it during the first half of Friday’s game against Indiana.

He literally bled for his team to be able to get to the Final Four and experience what college basketball nirvana feels like—which in a way, is something he’s been doing for four years now.

And with just two more wins, this could go down as the best coaching job the 65-year-old has ever done.

“It’s been a tough four years in Chapel Hill,” Paige said. “But to come out on top with this group—how much scrutiny we’ve gotten, even as a one-seed, how many people have doubted us to not make it out of the first weekend or not be tough enough to win the ACC. A lot of people didn’t even have us in the Final Four, a lot of the experts and stuff.”

“We love Coach and Coach loves us,” he added. “We don’t ever want it to stop. It’s been a special ride.”

Up Next: 

A Final Four date with a fellow ACC team, the  No. 10 seed Syracuse Orange, awaits the Tar Heels in Houston. That game will be played Saturday April 4 at 8:47 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Roy Williams’ eighth Final Four appearance puts him in fourth place on the all-time list behind only John Wooden (12), Mike Krzyzewski (12), and Dean Smith (11).
  • Brice Johnson’s 25 points and 12 rebounds gave him his 23rd double-double of the year–breaking Billy Cunningham’s school record for most in a single season.
  • Johnson also nearly matched the Fighting Irish’s rebounding total, as Notre Dame recorded just 15 the entire game thanks to UNC’s 61.5 percent shooting performance.
  • UNC is the only team remaining in the NCAA Tournament to have won all its games by double digits. The Tar Heels are also the last top seed left.



Tar Heels Hammer Notre Dame 78-47, Advance to ACC Title Game vs. Virginia

After nailing his third three-pointer of the first half in Friday night’s ACC Tournament Semifinal against Notre Dame, UNC senior guard Marcus Paige said to himself, “I’m back.”

His 16 points and seven assists then helped the No. 7 Tar Heels crush the Fighting Irish 78-47; a win so dominant it showed Paige isn’t the only one that’s back.

So, too, is the team many predicted would win a national title.

The first time these two teams played was on February 6 in South Bend—a game Notre Dame won 80-76 after rallying from 15 points down.

The Tar Heels harassed the Notre Dame offense all night long, as they put together their best defensive output of the year. (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels harassed the Notre Dame offense all night long, as they put together their best defensive output of the year. (Todd Melet)

That was UNC’s second straight loss at the time, leaving media and fans wondering if this team had what it takes to come through in big moments.

Fast forward to Friday, and the Tar Heels were the team imposing its will—putting together their most impressive performance of the season.

After leading 23-22 with six minutes until halftime, UNC took off on a game-changing 24-0 run that stretched into the second half. Paige hit two of his four three-pointers at the beginning of that spurt—including the one that sent all of Chapel Hill into a frenzy.

“It was just a matter of time before I got my confidence back and just played the way I knew I was capable of playing,” Paige said after the game. “Just relaxing and playing basketball again and trying to have fun.

“I guess you could call it the ‘old me,’ but I didn’t think I ever left,” he continued. “Even though I hadn’t been playing at the level I’d previously been playing at.”

Not only was Paige a key contributor to the run, but senior forward Brice Johnson—the team’s All-American—wasn’t even on the floor for most of the run thanks to foul trouble.

Isaiah Hicks put up 11 points and 15 rebounds off the bench after Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks ran into foul trouble. (Todd Melet)

Isaiah Hicks put up 11 points and 15 rebounds off the bench after Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks ran into foul trouble. (Todd Melet)

With fellow big man Kennedy Meeks also battling foul problems, head coach Roy Williams decided to go small. Isaiah Hicks, who finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds, played at center while four wing players surrounded him.

The result was a more active defense that held one of the nation’s top offenses to 30 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers in the game. This after the Fighting Irish turned the ball over just twice in their win back in February.

“I thought our effort was there,” Williams said. “I thought we talked in the first half on the defensive end of the floor maybe better than we have any game since maybe the Maryland game really, really early in the season. And played the drive a little bit better.

“But again, I think we caught Notre Dame–I think their legs were a little heavy,” the coach added, referencing the Fighting Irish’s overtime win over Duke the day before.

UNC now reaches its fifth ACC title game in the last six years, while also taking advantage of an opportunity to get revenge on a team that had beaten them three straight times—including in last year’s conference tournament final.

Those previous defeats were on the players’ minds as they refused to let off the gas down the stretch, extending the lead to as many as 37 points before it was all said and done.

Joel Berry had 12 points, including a pair of three-pointers, in the game. (Todd Melet)

Joel Berry had 12 points, including a pair of three-pointers, in the game. (Todd Melet)

“It’s pretty fun when you know you’re playing well and clicking on all cylinders,” Paige said. “But you also know against a team that came back from down [15] to beat you that there’s a lot of game left—and it’s way too early to celebrate.

“So watching that film from when we played them at their place kind of engraved in our minds that we couldn’t celebrate early.”

Rather than face more tired questions about their toughness, the Tar Heels simply did what they know how to do.

UNC won the rebounding battle 49-31, outscored Notre Dame in the paint 40-10, and got double-figure scoring performances from five players.

The fact that Paige was back as the top scorer and playmaker—appearing to break out of a mental slump that’s haunted him for months–means the ceiling on this team may be limitless heading into the most important games of the season.

“We didn’t even play great offensively, I think we shot 43 percent,” Paige said. “But our defense is definitely peaking. We’ve turned the corner a little bit defensively these past several weeks–where we’ve been holding teams to low field goal percentages, doing a better job on the backboards, and not letting teams outwork us.

“We’re definitely hitting our stride, but I still don’t know what our peak is,” he added. “Which is probably a good thing.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will play for the ACC Tournament Championship Saturday at 9 p.m against the No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers.

Game Notes:

  • The margin of victory (31 points) was the largest in ACC Tournament Semifinal history.
  • One of either UNC or Duke has been in the ACC Tournament Final every year since 1996.
  • UNC legends James Worthy and Antawn Jamison spoke to the team in the locker room afterwards.
  • Notre Dame came into the game as the fifth most efficient offense in the nation, according to UNC held the Fighting Irish to 15-of-50 shooting from the field (30%) and 5-of-19 from three (26%).



No. 2 UNC Blows 15-Point Lead, Loses to Notre Dame

While shooting woes doomed the No. 2 UNC men’s basketball game in its loss to Louisville on Monday, another of last season’s critical issues—the inability to close out games—resurfaced in Saturday night’s 80-76 loss at Notre Dame.

Despite building a 15-point lead in the first half, the Tar Heels slowly fell apart down the stretch as the Fighting Irish (16-7, 7-4 ACC) rallied to hand them their second consecutive loss following a 12-game win streak.

Now 19-4 this year, UNC falls into a tie atop the ACC standings with Louisville—who banned itself from postseason play—at 8-2 in the conference.

Brice Johnson had 14 points and 14 rebounds, but it was not enough to hold off Notre Dame. (AP Photo/ Robert Frankling)

Brice Johnson had 14 points and 14 rebounds, but it was not enough to hold off Notre Dame. (AP Photo/ Robert Frankling)

The Tar Heels finished the game shooting 45 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range, but head coach Roy Williams was not too pleased with the hustle stats.

“Their coach [Mike Brey] did a lot better of a job getting his guys to play with a great deal of intensity than I did,” Williams said after the game. “Look down there and see 19 points off turnovers for them, zero for us. Twenty-three second chance points for them, 13 for us. Thirty-eight foul shots for them, 21 for us.

“I’ve got to do a heck of a lot better getting our club to play with more intensity than we did,” he added.

Those effort plays crippled the Tar Heels on a night where senior guard Marcus Paige finally broke a six-game cold streak by scoring 21 points and nailing five three-pointers—the same amount of long-balls he hit during the entire slump.

Four of those threes sparked his team to the big lead that had them feeling like it had solved its one major issue.

The Fighting Irish simply outworked UNC the rest of the way–leaving Williams unable to explain what happened.

“Right now I don’t know if I can see my hand in front of my face, so I have no idea,” the coach said, after being asked if he liked his team’ intensity level in the first half. “I’ll look at it on tape.”

“It was easy early, and I’ve got a wonderful bunch of kids—but we’ve gotta decide that we wanna compete when it’s tough, not just when it’s easy.”

All five of Notre Dame’s starters scored in double figures, led by 19 each from guard Demetrius Jackson and forward Bonzie Colson. Colson’s partner in the frontcourt, Zach Auguste, had 15 points and 10 rebounds—including one on the offensive end where he grabbed the ball in front of four Tar Heels.

What’s impressive about these stats though, is that as a team the Fighting Irish made under 35 percent of their shots—or about as many as UNC made in its loss to Louisville.

The easy conclusion says the Tar Heels failed to show the killer instinct necessary when they had the chance to close this one out.

Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste dominated the glass all night. (AP Photo/ Robert Franklin)

Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste dominated the glass all night. (AP Photo/ Robert Franklin)

“Well, you know, the thing about it is—we can get up, but this is a tough league,” Williams said. “It’s not just about us. Notre Dame got up as well.

“The world’s not gonna come to an end, but right now I’m extremely frustrated.”

UNC junior guard Nate Britt sat out of the game with an illness, and it was clear the team could have used his defensive prowess and energy as the game wore on.

And although Brice Johnson picked up a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, no other Tar Heel had more than four boards.

All of these stats combined help illustrate just how unsettling this loss should be moving forward, but Williams refused to let his players take the blame.

“The head coach didn’t do a very good job,” Williams said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Up Next:

UNC will have a prime opportunity to end this losing streak in its next game–a road contest against the ACC’s last place team, Boston College. That game will take place on Tuesday Feb. 9.

Game Notes:

  • Notre Dame’s two turnovers are the fewest against a Roy Williams coached UNC team (previous was four on three occasions).
  • Thirty-one made free throws by Notre Dame were the second most by opponents against a Roy Williams coached Tar Heel team.
  • Johnson now has 14 double-doubles this season for UNC in 23 games.



Walk-Off Homer Wins Series Finale For Notre Dame, UNC Swept For First Time All Year

In thrilling fashion, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rallied from six runs down to defeat the No. 24 UNC baseball team 8-7 on a walk-off home run by pinch-hitter Kyle Richardson–in a game where the ball just could never seem to stay in the park–with the teams combining for seven long balls on the day.

Losing all three games in South Bend drops the Tar Heels to 13-13 in the ACC with a 30-19 record against all competition, while Notre Dame jumps to 15-12 in league play and 33-18 overall.

Sunday also marks the second time the Fighting Irish had to rally from three or more runs behind to defeat the Tar Heels this weekend.

Just as they did yesterday in the first game of the doubleheader, the Tar Heels homered in the top of the first inning to put the pressure on the home team.

Skye Bolt hit a grand slam for UNC in the second inning to put the Tar Heels ahead 6-0.  (UNC Athletics)

Skye Bolt hit a grand slam for UNC in the second inning to put the Tar Heels ahead 6-0. (UNC Athletics)

Sophomore right-fielder Tyler Ramirez followed up Skye Bolt’s walk with a deep drive over the wall in right center-field off Notre Dame starter Nick McCarty, spotting Carolina a two run lead before the Fighting Irish had seen a chance at the plate.

Benton Moss, the outstanding UNC senior starting pitcher, then worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the first to set up his team with a chance to extend their lead and take control of the game early.

Three walks by McCarty in the very next frame loaded the bases for Skye Bolt, who took full advantage of his opportunity–blasting a grand slam for his second home run in as many days.

Given a six run lead, everything seemed to be going in the Tar Heels’ favor, but Notre Dame first baseman Zak Kutsulis had other ideas.

A walk by Ryan Lidge and a single from Robert Youngdahl put two men on for Kutsulis in the bottom of the second, with the first baseman crushing a 1-0 pitch from Benton Moss over the fence–immediately cutting UNC’s cushy lead in half.

After the Tar Heels added one more tally in the third on a deep sacrifice fly by Joe Dudek which scored Korey Dunbar all the way from second base, their bats fell flat–getting no hits from the fourth through sixth innings– as the Fighting Irish chipped away at the lead with a few more home runs.

The Irish rally continued in the bottom of the fourth, when Kutsulis caught hold of another pitch from Moss for his second home run of the day, this one a solo shot with nobody on base.

More of the same ensued two innings later–in the Notre Dame half of the sixth–as Robert Youngdahl smashed a solo home run of his own, inching his team just a little bit closer.

Benton Moss pitched well, but allowed the Fighting Irish to swing their way back into the ball game. (UNC Athletics)

Benton Moss pitched well, but allowed the Fighting Irish to swing their way back into the ball game. (UNC Athletics)

Carolina head coach Mike Fox finally pulled the plug on Moss in favor of reliever Trent Thornton after the senior had finished the sixth inning having given up five hits and five runs, with all those runs coming by way of the long ball.

Thornton worked a perfect seventh inning, but like Moss, found trouble keeping the ball inside the park in the eighth and ninth.

A lead-off home run in the bottom of the eighth from Fighting Irish sophomore Cavan Biggio made it a one run UNC lead, and then Kyle Fiala tripled in the next at-bat before eventually scoring to tie the game heading into the final frame.

Failing again to provide a spark was the heart of the Carolina batting order–Skye Bolt, Tyler Ramirez, and Korey Dunbar–who each were set down by a pair of Notre Dame relievers in what turned out to be the Tar Heels final chance at the plate.

Fittingly enough the game would end on yet another home run, as Kyle Richardson took Thornton deep with two outs to seal the sweep for the home team–marking the first time all season long the Tar Heels have been swept.

Up Next:

A chance to recover awaits the Tar Heels on Tuesday night when they return home to Boshamer Stadium to take on the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks.

Game Notes:

  • Notre Dame has now swept two top 25 opponents this season, as they also swept Florida State earlier in the year.
  • The six-run comeback is also the biggest of the year for the Fighting Irish.
  • Skye Bolt now has eight home runs this year for UNC, which leads the team.
  • Cavan Biggio, who homered for the Irish in the eighth, is the son of former Houston Astro and MLB Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio.


Notre Dame Sweeps Doubleheader Against UNC, Takes Series

They played two games and 18 innings of baseball on Saturday at Notre Dame’s Frank Eck Stadium, with the Fighting Irish coming out on top of the No. 24 UNC baseball team in both legs to take the series win.

A late offensive rally helped Notre Dame take the first game of the afternoon by a score of 10-5, as they scored the game’s final eight runs–while pitchers Ryan Smoyer and Brandon Bielak combined to hold the Tar Heels to four hits in the nightcap, with the Fighting Irish taking the second game by a score of 3-1.

Sweeping the day’s games moves Notre Dame to 14-12 in the ACC and 32-18 overall. UNC falls to 13-12 inside the conference, with a 30-18 mark in all games.

Game One

The Fighting Irish snapped a 5-5 tie against the Tar Heels’ top two relievers, Trevor Kelley and Trent Thornton, by scoring five times in the bottom of the eighth to take control of the series with a series opening 10-5 victory.

Skye Bolt hit a solo home run in the top of the first, his seventh of the season, to give the Tar Heels the first lead in a game which they had every opportunity to come out on top.

Notre Dame tied the game in their half of the third inning against UNC starting pitcher Zac Gallen on an RBI fielders’ choice by left-fielder Ryan Bull, and then pulled in front in the fifth inning on a run-scoring single from another guy named Ryan–catcher Ryan Lidge.

Zac Gallen pitched well in the first game, but was let down by his bullpen. (UNC Athletics)

Zac Gallen pitched well in the first game, but was let down by his bullpen. (UNC Athletics)

After that, Bolt ignited a big Tar Heel rally, leading off the sixth frame with a walk, before coming around to score and tie the game on a double from freshman designated hitter Brian Miller.

The team in light blue did not stop there, however as they scratched across three more tallies in the frame, as they were helped by an error in center-field by Notre Dame’s Kyle Richardson.

Richardson’s blunder on Logan Warmoth’s fly-ball followed an RBI single by Alex Raburn, and let Raburn reach home with Warmoth advancing all the way to second.

When Warmoth came home on Eli Sutherland’s single, the score had been pushed to 5-2 in favor of the Tar Heels, with all of the momentum seemingly residing in the visiting dugout.

Then Jake Shepski happened.

Shepski, the Fighting Irish’s freshman designated hitter, hit a home run off of Gallen in the Notre Dame half of the sixth that turned the tide in favor of the home team. Gallen, who went 5.2 innings on the day and allowed three runs on five hits, was done after hitting the batter directly after Shepski.

UNC head coach Mike Fox made the move to senior Trevor Kelley (5-2), his most reliable bullpen arm, to try and hold onto the lead heading into the final innings, but Kelley was not able to keep the Irish off the scoreboard.

First he allowed a game-tying two run homer to Ryan Bull in the bottom of the seventh, and then he put the first two men he faced in the eighth on base–resulting in four earned runs for the Wilmington native, as Notre Dame converted on seemingly every opportunity they had against Kelley’s replacement, Trent Thornton.

By the end of the late onslaught, the Fighting Irish had come back from a three run deficit and scored in each of their last four trips to the plate to bury the Tar Heels into too deep of a hole to dig out of in their final turn at the plate.

Reliever Scott Tully (4-4) , who picked up the win by pitching the final 2.1 innings, finished the game off with a perfect ninth by striking out Korey Dunbar and Brian Miller before getting Joe Dudek to fly out to close the book on the day’s opening act.

Game Two

Right away Notre Dame jumped on Carolina freshman starting pitcher JB Bukauskas for two runs in the first inning, added another in the third, and then held on from there–behind the superb pitching of Ryan Smoyer and Brandon Bielak.

Bukauskas (4-2) walked the first two batters he faced before allowing Ryan Lidge to single home Cavan Biggio, striking first blood for the Irish.

Outfielder Robert Youngdahl then followed up with a sacrifice fly, which scored Kyle Fiala for the second run of the inning.

JB Bukauskas, on the other hand, struggled in his start. (UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas, on the other hand, struggled in his start. (UNC Athletics)

For the day Bukauskas would last for just three innings, surrendering three runs on four hits as he struggled with his control–walking five batters as well.

Alex Raburn’s sacrifice fly in the fourth inning off of Smoyer (7-0) served as the only offense the Tar Heels could muster in the second leg of the doubleheader, with the team struggling to get anything going all night long.

Smoyer would pitch the first six innings before being relieved by Brandon Bielak, who pitched just as well, as neither man gave up more than two hits.

Following Raburn’s RBI, Carolina received a single from Eli Sutherland in the seventh and another from Joe Dudek in the ninth, but were otherwise completely shut down against the powerful Notre Dame pitching staff.

On the bright side for UNC, the unheralded bullpen trio of Hansen Butler, Spencer Trayner, and lefty Zach Rice combined to throw the final five innings without ceding any more offense to the Irish, giving up no runs on just three hits in that time frame.

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will look to avoid the series sweep on Sunday with senior Benton Moss going to the mound to face-off with Notre Dame’s Nick McCarty. First pitch for that game is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on WCHL and ESPN3.

Doubleheader Notes:

  • This was the first time Notre Dame and UNC have met as ACC opponents.
  • Notre Dame leads the nation in fielding double plays.
  • The Tar Heels have now lost three of their past six games after previously winning 12 of 14.