No. 4 men’s lacrosse outlasts No. 18 North Carolina and improves to 3-0 in ACC play

The Cavaliers pick up eighth consecutive win with 11-10 victory over Tar Heels

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Junior midfielder Dox Aitken scored the game-winning goal against North Carolina Saturday. 

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

After extending its win streak to seven last weekend, the No. 4 Virginia men’s lacrosse team welcomed No. 18 North Carolina to Klockner Stadium Saturday for the two programs’ 83rd all-time meeting. 

The Cavaliers (9-2, 3-0 ACC) defeated the Tar Heels (7-4, 1-1 ACC) 11-10 in a back-and-forth game that came down to a few key plays late in the fourth quarter.

With the win, Virginia has secured at least a share of the ACC regular season title as well as the top seed in the ACC Tournament for the first time since the 2010 season.

For the fourth game in a row, Virginia scored the opening goal with junior midfielder Dox Aitken scoring his 24th of the year after dropping a North Carolina defender.

While the Cavaliers dominated possession early and hit the crossbar twice in rapid succession, the Tar Heels responded with two goals in less than four minutes to make it 2-1 with 2:28 remaining. 

Both North Carolina and Virginia showcased their strong defenses for the next 9:56 as neither team was able to score. The two goalkeepers — Virginia sophomore Alex Rode and North Carolina freshman Caton Johnson — traded saves back and forth.

The Tar Heels ended the scoreless stretch halfway through the second period with freshman attackman Nicky Solomon notching his second goal of the game. 

Junior attackman Michael Kraus used an incredible individual effort to score Virginia’s second goal of the game late in the second quarter. North Carolina responded immediately with junior midfielder William Perry scoring a sensational goal under pressure and Solomon adding another from point blank range.

With less than two minutes remaining the first half, Kraus scored his second of the game to cut the deficit to 5-3 going into halftime. 

For the Cavaliers, a combination of poor shooting, sloppy play and terrific North Carolina defending held them to their lowest first half scoring total of the season. 

Desperately looking for an offensive jumpstart, the Cavaliers got a much-needed goal from an unlikely source — sophomore midfielder John Fox who scored his first goal of the season. 

Fox’s goal kicked off a 4-1 Virginia run in the third quarter to give the Cavaliers their first lead since the first period. In addition to Fox, Kraus and senior attackman Mikey Herring combined for the other three goals. 

North Carolina came out firing on all cylinders in the fourth period, scoring three straight to retake the lead, but Virginia responded with three of their own including sophomore attackman Matt Moore’s first two of the game. 

The Tar Heels tied the game at 10-10 through senior attackman Timmy Kelly before Aitken scored his second of the day at a critical time to give Virginia the one-goal lead late in the final period.

An illegal body check called on Virginia junior defenseman Jared Conners after the ensuing faceoff gave North Carolina possession and an extra-man opportunity with about a minute and a half left in the game. 

North Carolina took two shots in the last minute but neither hit the back of the net as Virginia held on to the lead and secured an 11-10 victory.

The Virginia attack was spearheaded by Kraus and his five-goal performance, while both Aitken and Moore added two apiece. The trio combined for nine of the Cavaliers’ 11 goals.

“[North Carolina] runs some weird schemes, but we just stuck to what we know … I think it comes down to moving the ball and being patient to break them down,” Kraus said.

In addition to the Cavaliers’ offensive stars, freshman midfielder Petey LaSalla had an outstanding game at the faceoff X, winning 17 of 23, and continually giving Virginia additional possessions.

“We were struggling early on in the season, but just approaching, watching film, figuring out what the other team is doing — I give a lot of credit to my wings,” LaSalla said in reference to his individual improvement over the course of the season. 

Against a red-hot North Carolina team, Virginia needed clinical scoring and a resilient defense to edge the Tar Heels, and the Cavaliers delivered when it mattered the most.

“Every ACC game, as we’ve proven, is a battle,” Coach Lars Tiffany said. “Every one of them is filled with talented coaches and really super talented players.”

Virginia next travels to No. 6 Duke Saturday for its ACC regular season finale. Faceoff is set for noon. 

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