Senior attackman Austin French, who missed DU’s first four games of the season due to upper body injury, came back to the DU starting lineup with a vengeance to lift the eighth-ranked Pioneers (4-1) to 12-10 road victory over [15/20] North Carolina Tar Heels . The Pioneer road win ruined the christening of UNC’s brand new 4,000-seat Lacrosse and Soccer Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Saturday morning, Mar. 2.
French tied his career-high with a six point overall performance, and set a new career-high with five assists in the game to lead Denver. His ball distribution skills are critical to the flow of Denver’s offensive attack, and the Californian’s return to the lineup provided just the tonic DU needed to secure its first road win of the season.
“[Our team] stayed together,” DU Head Coach Bill Tierney told Inside Lacrosse. “We felt like we gave up some goals in the first half that we’d like to have back, but they stayed together, tied it right up again, and really it was a war from that point…Good to have [Austin] Frenchie back.”
Battling an early morning start time on the East Coast, the Pioneers struggled out of the gate and found themselves down at halftime, 6-4 to UNC, but responded after the break with five third-quarter goals to outscore UNC 5-3 in the period and tie up the game at nine heading into the final quarter.
In the showdown in crunch time, Denver senior midfield Colton Jackson put the team on his back and scored back-to-back unassisted goals in the first 4:12 of the fourth quarter and Denver’s Ethan Walker fired in his 13th goal of the season (and team-high fourth goal of the game) to elevate Denver to a three-goal lead with 7:10 to go in regulation, a lead the Pioneers would not relinquish.
William Perry’s marker pulled North Carolina back to within two goals with 4:36 to play in the game and gave the Tar Heels a bit of hope, but Denver’s stout defense, led by junior Dylan Gaines, made some key stops down the stretch to secure the two-goal victory, 12-10.
DU senior goalie Alex Ready shook off a bit of sluggish first half to make 11 saves in the win, including three in both the third and the fourth quarters when the game was on the line, for his 15th double digit saves performance of his career, and this second in three games. He had a 52% performance in saves percentage on the day, a level that DU will need in the future now that face-offs may no longer be a team strong suit (as they were in the last four years with Trevor Baptiste now graduated).
The Pioneers struggled on clears (14-22), turnovers (18 to UNC’s 17), face-offs (19-7, UNC), and ground balls (38-34, UNC).
DU goes West next weekend as the Pioneers play their biggest lacrosse rival, Notre Dame, in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Saturday at 8 pm MT in the Pacific Coast Shootout for the second time. The Pioneers beat the Irish in the first Pacific Coast Shootout, 10-7 in 2014.
The DU vs. Notre Dame is the second of five consecutive games to played away from home for the Pioneers.