Virginia ousts North Carolina to gain first Final Four since '88

May 22, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The Virginia lacrosse team got a monkey off its back, and the Cavaliers don't really care if their next encouter is with a gorilla.

For the first time since 1988, Virginia is in the Final Four, and for the first time in more than a decade, the Cavaliers can claim that they have the best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They took care of both matters yesterday, moving past old nemesis North Carolina, 12-10, in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal before 1,750 at Kenan Stadium.

Virginia will meet defending champion and top-seeded Syracuse the first semifinal at Byrd Stadium Saturday (noon). The fifth-seeded Cavaliers are 8-0 away from Charlottesville, have the speed to run with the Orangemen, and don't sound satisfied or intimidated.

"This is our year to make a statement to everyone in the country, that Virginia lacrosse has turned around and that we're ready to play tough," senior defenseman Craig Ronald said. "We're not just going to go out and play a quarter or a half, we're going to play 60 minutes."

Actually, when Virginia (12-3) last met North Carolina (10-5), the Cavaliers wilted. The Tar Heels' 15-7 victory in the ACC %o tournament title game was their sixth straight postseason victory over Virginia and earned them a first-round bye.

Dom Starsia, the Cavaliers' second-year coach, learned from the defeat, and for the first time in six years, North Carolina will have to pay its way into the Final Four.

Virginia's victory in the rubber match -- it ended North Carolina's four-year home win streak with a 16-6 rout in the regular season -- began in the faceoff circle. For the first time this season, the Cavaliers had the advantage over the Tar Heels, as Tony Nugent (Calvert Hall) and improved work on the wings led them to a 15-11 advantage in face offs.

Other midfield numbers were telling, as North Carolina's vaunted first-team unit was limited to a single point, a second-quarter rocket by two-time ACC Player of the Year Ryan Wade.

North Carolina took a 3-1 lead after one quarter, but the score by Wade, a senior from Severn who concluded his collegiate career with 91 goals and a school-record 324 ground balls, was one of the few bright spots for the Tar Heels the rest of the way. It stopped a Cavaliers run at three straight goals and forced a tie at 4-4.

Virginia went ahead for good with 1:27 left in the half, when Tim Whiteley slapped in a loose ball for a 6-5 lead. The Cavaliers stretched the spread to 10-7 on a transition goal by Andrew Dausch (Gilman), but they needed a solo effort from Michael Watson to clinch it.

Midfielders Wilson Felter, a senior from Friends who had a game-high three goals, and Ousmane Greene got the Tar Heels within 10-9 with 6:23 to go, but North Carolina's comeback was squelched by Watson. A freshman from St. Paul's who succeeded former prep school teammate Whiteley as ACC Rookie of the Year, Watson scored his team-high 25th goal on the fly with 5:54 to go.

"I was out taking a breather, and when I went in I got matched up with a short stick [midfielder]," Watson said. "I didn't really look at the goal, and I caught him [Tar Heels goalie Rocco D'Andraia] off guard by taking it to the near side."

Midfielder David Jones (St. Mary's) made it 12-9 39 seconds later, and the Tar Heels didn't get enough chances in the last five minutes. They were outshot 40-29 over the last three periods, and three of their five second-half goals came on extra-man situations. All even, Jason Wade and Felter were stopped by goalie James Ireland in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.

"Their [Virginia's] defense played better than it did the previous time," North Carolina coach Dave Klarmann said.

The victory was a breakthrough for the Cavaliers all the way around. When they lost at Johns Hopkins last May, it was the fourth straight year a Starsia-coached team was eliminated in the quarterfinals. Last week, he predicted that two visiting teams would survive the quarterfinals, and Virginia and former employer Brown, which won at Loyola, made good on it.

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