Pioneers suffer “setback” in 13-9 loss to North Carolina

Photo credit: Sasha Kandrach

Tyler Pace returned to the field, Ethan Walker netted a hat trick, and that’s about all that went well for the #1 University of Denver Pioneers today as they fell 13-9 to the #6 North Carolina Tarheels at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. Denver was never competitive and the Tarheels led the game wire to wire.

The statsheet indicates that the Pioneers played a good overall game. They outshot the Tarheels 43-34, they committed two fewer turnovers, and per usual, they won the faceoff battle. The big difference today was between the pipes for North Carolina in Brian Balkam, who made 17 saves on the day compared to DU’s Alex Ready’s 6.

“Credit to Brian Balkam, their goalie, he was fabulous today,” DU head coach Bill Tierney said after the game. “When you see him save the high ones and the low ones, that’s when things get a little bit like ‘uh, what do you want us to do now?'”

While Denver played a decent statistical game, Tierney couldn’t help but feel somewhat defeated, that this loss was more than just another loss to a top 10 program.

“It’s a setback,” Tierney said of the loss. “This year is going to be crazy. You can’t help but look at what’s happened just in two weeks. [UNC] gets beat up by Hopkins, Hopkins gets beat up by Princeton, we get beat up by [UNC]. Where does that put us? You only have 13 games, so you’ve got to quickly figure out what you did right, what you did wrong.”

It wasn’t all terrible for the Pioneers today as both Walker(3 goals, 1 assist) and Pace (1 goal, 2 assists)  had good games. While they were the lone bright spots for the Pioneers, the did shine very brightly which will help remind some DU fans that all is not lost and this team is still a real threat to win it all come Memorial Day Weekend.

With every passing game, it’s becoming clearer that Walker is feeling more and more comfortable at the Division I level and in offensive coordinator Matt Brown’s offense.

“Ethan is a great lacrosse player,” Tierney said again. “We don’t even think of him as a freshman. He’s so poised, he’s so talented. I thought today, he did what he had to do. In certain regards, you can tell he’s still young out there. Every game he sees, he’s seeing something new. I don’t even want to say he’s going to be a great one, he already is.”

It was clear, at least early in the game, that this was Pace’s first game back from injury. He looked rusty at times and he hesitated to shoot at certain points. The veteran midfielder did catch his stride as he tallied three points on the day, which was a very good thing to see with Notre Dame coming to town next weekend.

“Tyler was moving well,” Tierney said of Pace’s return. “He’s very smart out there. He brings a level of game IQ to us. I thought he did a good job moving the ball. He had some shots that normally he would can, but it’s his first game back since last May. Tyler’s only going to get better.”

As disappointing as this setback was, DU will have to recover quickly with Notre Dame the next opponent. The best thing they can do right now is channel their inner Bill Belichick and tell themselves, “We’re onto Notre Dame.”