Caitlan Gannam | Clarion

The No. 5 DU Pioneers sustained their first setback of the 2017 season to the reigning 2016 National Champion No. 2 University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels on Saturday, March 4.

While the Pioneers outshot the Tar Heels a total of 43-34 and sparked a fourth quarter rally, outscoring UNC 4-3, North Carolina held the lead the entire game at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium.

“This is one of those games where you’re not sure what happened,” Denver Head Coach Bill Tierney said. “It’s hard to say that we didn’t play well. It’s hard to say, ‘All you’ve got to do is give great credit to Carolina.’ Their backs were against the wall a little bit today after last week’s loss to Hopkins. They came out ready to go. I thought our kids persevered and played hard in the fourth quarter. Why you could only get five goals in three quarters and four in the fourth when the emotion was high? Credit to Carolina, but we can’t be overly discouraged by a game like this.”

UNC redshirt junior goalie Brian Balkam was excellent in net, diminishing Denver’s offensive confidence as he made 17 saves.

“Other than the first quarter, you go 10, 11 and 14 shots. You’re going to win when you have those kinds of numbers,” Head Coach Tierney said. “Credit to Brian Balkam, he was fabulous today. 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?’

Freshman attackman Ethan Walker (Peterborough, Ontario) led the Pioneers with three goals and an assist. Senior midfielder Tyler Pace (Coquitlam, British Columbia) returned to the lineup after suffering an injury, tallying three points on a goal and two assists.

“Tyler was moving well. He’s very smart out there,” Tierney said. “He brings a level of game IQ to us and they were ready for it, which was fine. They put the pull on him. He had some shots that normally he would can, but it’s his first game back since last June or last May. Tyler is only going to get better and so will we as he does.”

UNC was lethal with distance shots, scoring the majority of goals from outside of the arc.

“It’s a setback. This year is going to be crazy. This isn’t hockey, this isn’t baseball, it’s not basketball. You only have 13 games. You’ve got to quickly figure out what you did right and what you did wrong. As I told the team, there’s nothing we can do about the result of today, it’s over. But there’s a lot we can do about getting better from it. I know our guys and we know who we’ve got coming in next week, and it’s going to be another challenge. I know they’ll respond.”

Denver, now 4-1, continues it’s six-game homestand welcoming top-ranked Notre Dame on Sunday, March 12. Faceoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.