Virginia’s Defense Clamps North Carolina in Second Half to Earn Thursday Night Victory

(Photo Courtesy of Virginia Athletics)

In the first ACC Thursday Night Lacrosse matchup of the season, it was the back-to-back defending national champions who came out on top as the Virginia Cavaliers beat the North Carolina Tar Heels 15-11 in Chapel Hill.

Cole Kastner came into the game averaging 3.8 caused turnovers and 2.2 ground balls through Virginia’s first five games of the season. On Thursday, he was only credited with one caused turnover, but even though he didn’t stuff the stat sheet as usual the sophomore defenseman was just as impactful. Matched up with Chris Gray, he helped hold Gray to just one goal and four points (3A) on the day and a scoreless second half.

While Kastner was doing damage on Gray during that second half, the Virginia defense as a whole also stepped up. The Cavaliers held North Carolina scoreless in the third quarter and only allowed one goal in the final two periods combined. North Carolina committed 12 turnovers during those final two quarters.

Matthew Nunes anchored the Virginia defensive effort with eight saves (five in the second half).

As the Virginia defense was going to wok on one end, so was their offense on the other. After trailing 10-9 at the half, the Cavaliers’ offenses put in five straight in the third quarter to help push them ahead 14-10 heading into the final period of play. Connor Shellenberger was involved on two of those goals, scoring one himself and assisting on another. He had the final goal of the game to end with a seven-point outing (4G/3A).

Payton Cormier and Matt Moore also had hat tricks to help lead the way for the Cavaliers offense. Cormier tallied the final two of the Virginia third-quarter, five-goal run. Moore scored consecutive goals during Virginia’s first-half, five-goal run that helped take the 7-5 lead early in the second before getting his third of the day to start the second-half scoring.

Petey LaSalla had a rough first quarter where he went 2-for-9, but bounced back in the final three periods of play, going 12-for-21 (57%) in those final 45 minutes.

Both teams being known for their aggressive rides and their use of the 10-man ride, there eas a lot of action in the middle of the field throughout the contest. Virginia held the Tar Heels to 18-of-23 (78%) in the clearing game, including a 2-4 mark in the second quarter and 4-6 mark in the third. On the other hand, Virginia was held to a 16-of-20 (80%) mark which included a 4-7 mark in the fourth quarter.

North Carolina was able to run with Virginia in the first half of play. A five-goal run in the first quarter, which was aided by five consecutive faceoff wins from Zac Tucci, saw the Tar Heels take a 5-2 lead midway through the quarter after Virginia got off to a hot 2-0 start. A 5-2 run in the second quarter that features two Jacob Kelly goals off Chris Gray feeds helped the Tar Heels take the one-goal lead at the half.

But in the second half, things fell apart for the Tar Heels while Virginia soared.

P.J. Zinsner ended the scoring drought for Carolina with 9:22 in the game, and only down three goals (14-11), a comeback was still very much possible. However, in those final nine minutes and change, the Tar Heels only got off three shots and committed four turnovers, all of which were uncaused.

Cole Herbert (2G/1A), Jacob Kelly (2G), and Nicky Solomon (2G) led the Tar Heels’ offense outside of Gray. Collin Kreieg made 18 saves in cage to anchor the North Carolina defense. 11 of those saves came in the first half.

Virginia (6-0) moves on to face the Maryland Terrapins in a national title game rematch at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. next Saturday. North Carolina (5-2) will also be back in action next Saturday, facing High Point at home.

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