On a day when Johns Hopkins continued to struggle at the offensive end, it was the return of one of the nation's top attackmen -- North Carolina's Billy Bitter -- that ultimately made the biggest difference on Saturday.
Bitter, who missed last week's game against Maryland with a strained calf muscle in his left leg, scored a game-high four goals, providing a spark that the No. 12 Blue Jays simply couldn't match in an 11-7 loss to the No. 3 Tar Heels before an announced 4,012 at Homewood Field.
"He's just a difference-maker and he proved it today," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "We were fortunate enough he played the whole game."
The loss was the fourth straight for the Blue Jays (4-5), including three straight against teams ranked among the nation's top three. It left Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, who started four freshmen -- including goalie Pierce Bassett -- continuing to search for answers.
"It's a failed clear at an inopportune time. It's a layup that we don't make at the most inopportune time," Pietramala said. "Those are the things that just continuously are killing us."
North Carolina, meanwhile, is now 10-0 for the first time since 1991.
The Tar Heels got off 39 shots despite missing top scorers Sean DeLaney and Thomas Wood to injuries. Having Bitter back, however, more than made up the difference.
Despite considerable question about whether he would play, Bitter, with his left calf heavily taped, immediately stepped into the spotlight.
With his team down 1-0, he helped Carolina take the lead by scoring three goals in a span of 4:32, the final in the flurry coming on a wild sequence that started when Hopkins freshman John Ranagan fired a hard shot off the pipe. The ball ricocheted out to near midfield, where Bitter picked it up on the run, bolted into the Blue Jays' end and finished off the fast break.
"I got my confidence back up," Bitter said. "It wasn't too much fun on the sidelines watching the game last week at Maryland, but coach told me he was going to call on me for a lot of the plays."
Later, with the game tied at 4-4, North Carolina got another break when Bassett -- just the fifth true freshman to start in goal for Hopkins since freshmen became eligible to play in 1972 -- initially stopped Chris Layne's shot from the right side, but then inadvertently knocked the carom.
The Tar Heels helped their own cause by converting each of their first two extra-man opportunities, and then extended their lead to 9-6 on Matt Palasek's fastbreak effort just seconds after the Blue Jays' Chris Hunt lost a faceoff on a procedure call.
Hopkins, which got three goals from attackman Kyle Wharton, failed to score on all four of its extra-man opportunities.
This is the third straight year Hopkins has fallen below the .500 mark around midseason.
"The difference now is you're trying to battle back with a ton of freshmen on the field," Pietramala said. "There's a lot of inexperience, and guys making mistakes that they're supposed to make as freshmen. We've got to just keep battling."