PHILADELPHIA — Even though Chris Cloutier already had scored more goals in the NCAA Tournament than any player before him, he wasn’t sure if he was ready to pull the trigger again in overtime.
Cloutier, North Carolina’s brawny, 215-pound sophomore attack from Canada, had been robbed by Maryland goalie Kyle Bernlohr on the doorstep moments earlier. “I was a little hesitant to take that shot because I was pretty heartbroken from the stuff before that,” Cloutier said of the All-American goalie’s sprawling save on what looked like a sure goal.
But with the “keep shooting” mentality that characterizes many top scorers, Cloutier took a feed from Michael Tagliaferri on the wing and beat Bernlohr with a blazer 2:21 into overtime to give unseeded North Carolina a thrilling 14-13 win over No. 1 Maryland on Monday in the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse final before a crowd of 26,749 at Lincoln Financial Field.
It was the first time an unseeded team won it, and North Carolina’s first title since 1991. Maryland (17-3), which lost in the final for a second straight year, hasn’t won it all since 1975.
“That’s a play that Tags and I do quite a bit in practice,’’ Cloutier said. “When he threw that ball to me and I was hands free, I just thought I could take it, and luckily it went in.”
His fifth goal of the game and record 19th of the tournament followed his record-setting nine goals in Saturday’s semifinal against Loyola. “You do what you do,” North Carolina goalie Brian Balkam said of Cloutier, who scored 43 goals in his first season on attack.
Balkam (St. James, Smithtown East) made 13 saves, none bigger than a man-down stop on Connor Kelly (four goals) in the first minute of overtime. Luke Goldstock (four goals) had taken an ill-timed unnecessary-roughing penalty away from the play with four seconds left in regulation that carried over into the extra period.
“These two definitely saved my butt,” Goldstock said of Cloutier and Balkam. “I wasn’t thinking. It’s definitely my fault. Thank God I had these two to save me from a lot of mental disasters.”
After the Tar Heels (12-6) killed off Goldstock’s penalty, they got their own one-minute man-up situation when Mike McCarney was flagged for cross-checking. “Once I saw Balkam make the save, we got a jolt of energy,’’ Goldstock said, “and then we went down there and Chris stuck it home.”
Kelly, Matt Rambo (three goals, three assists) and Henry West (two goals, four assists) had helped Maryland overcome a 4-0 deficit and take a 13-11 lead on Kelly’s goal off Rambo’s feed with 7:49 left. The Terps’ Austin Henningsen (Northport) bounced back from a rough game against Brown on Saturday to win 19 of 30 faceoffs.
Former Northport teammate Brian Cannon had two first-quarter goals for Carolina, which tied it on Goldstock’s man-up goal with 3:53 left and Patrick Kelly’s unassisted score 31 seconds later, setting the stage for Cloutier’s overtime star turn.
“He’s a load for a defenseman once you reverse the ball, even though he’s all left,” coach Joe Breschi said of Cloutier’s favored shooting hand.
On Monday, Cloutier was all right.