by Sean Burns | LaxMagazine.com
Chris Cloutier had an NCAA Tournament record-tying nine goals as North Carolina built up a huge early lead and then held on through a Loyola run in the second half to earn a 18-13 victory and berth in Monday's NCAA finals against either Brown or Maryland.
Cloutier's nine goals were the most ever in an NCAA semifinal or final for men's lacrosse, and equalled the tournament record set in 1988 by Syracuse's Gary Gait and equalled in 1992 by Brown's Oliver Marti. He had six in the first half, and his final of the day - with 5:32 remaining - halted a 4-0 run by the Greyhounds that had narrowed the gap to four down the stretch.
Stephen Kelly had a 19-for-35 day at the X for the Tar Heels with two assists, including a dominating run in the first half. He started the day 14-for-23, including a 7-2 mark in the second quarter, to help North Carolina lead by as many as ten before Loyola narrowed the gap to 14-5 at halftime.
He fared worse in the second half, taking every draw on a day where the temperatures on the turf were said to reach 110 degrees in Philadelphia. With more possessions, Loyola was able to put together runs of three and four goals, but never got closer than 16-12 before Cloutier's final tally.
Steve Pontrello had two goals and three assists for North Carolina, with Luke Goldstock adding a pair of scores and an assist. Overall, ten players scored on a day that saw the most combined goals on a championship weekend since Syracuse and Virginia scored 35 in 1995.
Loyola, playing in its first final four since winning its lone championship in 2012, was led by a goal and five assists from Pat Spencer, three and one from Tyler Albrecht and a hat trick from Zach Herreweyers. Graham Savio was nearly as much of a workhorse as Kelly, taking 31 draws on the day and winning 16, including nine in the second half as the Hounds rallied.
In net, Brian Balkam earned the win with seven saves, including a beauty in tight late in the game to keep North Carolina's lead at four. Loyola's Jacob Stover made two saves and allowed nine goals in the first 15 minutes, giving way to Grant Limone, who made seven saves over the final 45 minutes.
The Tar Heels will find out their finals opponent later Saturday afternoon after top-seed Maryland plays Brown in the second semifinal. They took on Maryland earlier this season, falling 11-8 in March. The finals will face off at 1 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field Monday.