COLLEGE PARK -- It began with attackman Steve Speers TC beating a Johns Hopkins long-stick midfielder. By the time the third quarter ended with the Blue Jays' Brian Piccola banging a shot off the pipe, the North Carolina run had taken the Tar Heels into the NCAA final.
The Tar Heels dominated the faceoffs, ground balls and possession in a nearly perfect period of lacrosse yesterday that carried them to a 16-10 semifinal victory over Hopkins before a record crowd of 21,529 at Byrd Stadium.
The third-quarter masterpiece came after a subpar first half, a surprise considering the Tar Heels had a year to think about the slow start that doomed them against Princeton in the 1992 semifinals.
That memory didn't help coach Dave Klarmann's team. North Carolina trailed at halftime (7-5) for the first time this season.
"There were no threats [at halftime]," Klarmann said. "The only thing I stressed was, 'Don't give me that puppy-dog face.' Some guys will mope when things aren't going their way. We've got too much leadership and too many good players to allow ourselves to sink."
North Carolina will have another chance to show its mettle in the title game against Syracuse tomorrow at noon. The Tar Heels, who are seeking their second title in Klarmann's three years and are 4-0 in championship games, took over the No. 1 ranking with a 14-10 win over the Orangemen on March 6.
Yesterday's third quarter was a top-ranked performance. North Carolina dominated the faceoffs (5-2), beat the Blue Jays to ground balls (21-6) and outscored them 6-1 to take command.
"We didn't want to make it our last half," said attackman John Webster, speaking for North Carolina's 15 seniors. "We didn't want to go out suckers."
In the first 10 minutes of the second half, North Carolina (14-1) outshot Hopkins 15-1 and deflated the Blue Jays' upset plans with four straight goals. The quarter included two man-down situations in which Hopkins couldn't beat junior goalie Gary Lehrmann, who is playing only because of an injury that Billy Daye suffered in an 11-4 regular-season win over the Blue Jays on April 3.
Two isolation goals in a 21-second span ignited North Carolina. Webster, who had three goals and two assists, tied it at 7 and Speers gave the Tar Heels their first lead at 8-7 with 7:01 left in the quarter.
Speers was leveled by Scott Mollica after the goal, and 49 seconds later some excellent extra-man movement -- Webster to Speers to Dan Levy on the crease -- made it 9-7. A goal by freshman Milford Marchant briefly buoyed Hopkins, but North Carolina scored four straight goals over the next nine minutes.
"North Carolina did a real good job of controlling the ball," Hopkins coach Tony Seaman said. "They had it so much at their end, and when we finally got it, we didn't execute at the offensive end. Their ball control took us out of the game."
Marchant and fellow midfielder Brian Kelly had three goals apiece, as Hopkins attack leaders Brian Piccola and Terry Riordan each were held to a goal and assist by North Carolina defensemen Alex Martin and Greg Paradine, respectively. Neither scored in the second half.
"In the second half, when we took it to the cage, they collapsed on us," Piccola said. "When I'd drive on Martin, two or three guys would converge on me and tie me up. Same with Terry. We had the shots though. Personally, I had three or four in the second half I should've buried."
Hopkins' two lowest goal totals of the season came against North Carolina. Lehrmann, who won the starter's job when Daye's season was ended in a collision with Riordan, overcame a second quarter in which Hopkins hit on four of nine shots to finish with 14 saves.
"We really found a goaltender today," Klarmann said.