No. 14 Flames rally from behind to conquer No. 15 Warriors
March 15, 2013 | Angola, Ind.
Indiana Tech gave Liberty University's men's lacrosse team its first gut check of the year Friday night, and it passed the test in impressive fashion.
The third game of the Flames' spring break road trip through Michigan and Indiana pitted two teams ranked in the top 15 of the latest MCLA Division II poll, Liberty at No. 14 and IT (0-3) at No. 15.
For the first time in seven games this season, the Flames (7-0) found themselves behind at halftime, 6-4, and trailed 8-4 in the third quarter before rallying for a 15-11 triumph.
"It was a stressful game, a very competitive game, but it showed me what they were able to do when faced with adversity," Liberty head coach Kyle McQuillan said. "I learned more about this team in this one game than I had all season. When you look adversity in the face and do what you have to do to fight back, it makes you proud to be a part of this program."
The Warriors' first two losses were to teams ranked in the top 10, including St. Thomas (Minn.), winners of three of the past four MCLA Division II national titles.
Liberty, meanwhile, coming off a 15-7 victory over ninth-ranked Grand Valley State, hadn't really been challenged to date.
"We have won all of our games pretty handily so to me, this was the biggest game of the season thus far," McQuillan said. "That was, hands-down, the best team we've played this season. They've started their season with some pretty tough games, but I expect them to win their division (of Central Collegiate Lacrosse) and go to nationals."
He said what ignited the Flames' comeback was shifting from a man-to-man to a zone defense, a move he made in part in response to his players' fatigue level.
"It confused their offense, taking their dodging zones away and forcing them to shoot from the outside," McQuillan said. "We're a very good transition team, but we weren't clicking on transition tonight. Once we realized that the other team was having trouble putting the ball in the net, we started waiting more for good opportunities out of our set offense."
The players' patience on the perimeter paid off gradually, and the Flames capitalized, finally tying the game back up with five minutes left in the third.
"We were able to come back slowly but surely," McQuillan said. "There wasn't a flurry of goals that put us back in it quickly. It was a slow methodical march. We were able to finish our game following our blueprint (of taking the lead and protecting it), but it was not until very late."
Offensively, Liberty received balanced scoring production, led by freshman attack Ryan Miller's four goals and one assist. Junior midfielder Derek Haywood was the Flames' top point-scorer with three goals and three assists, followed closely by freshman middie Bryce Mrakovich's three goals and two assists, and two goals and one assist from senior attack Joe Gargiulo and junior attack Kurt Tobias.
"We're not just a one-trick pony type of team," McQuillan said. "We have four or five players that can score and we can do it in about five or six different ways."
Miller, Gargiulo, and Tobias have emerged as a few of the Flames' best go-to scorers.
"Those are three guys that have very unique traits and we've been able to move the ball to each of them, depending on the type of team we play," McQuillan said. "Joe Gargiulo, if we're playing a team that gives up the middle of the field and doesn't play close, tight defense, he's able to get in there and get some close goals. If a team comes out and presses us pretty aggressively outside and we need someone to dodge and create and beat them to the net in one-on-one situations, Ryan Miller is good at that. Kurt Tobias has a really good shot and he is an outside threat as a shooter."
Neither team committed or created many turnovers.
"It was a well-played game by both sides," McQuillan said. "Both teams took very good care of the ball and played a fundamentally disciplined type of lacrosse. We were able to capitalize on our opportunities."
Due to wet weather, the game was played at Trine University's Fred Zollner Athletic Stadium in Angola, Ind., which had a turf field, rather than Indiana Tech in nearby Ft. Wayne.
Saturday's contest, the fourth in four days for the Flames, is set for 11:30 a.m. at Taylor University, a Christian school located in Upland, Ind.
"That will cap off our spring break trip," McQuillan said. "We're all pretty tired, but if we're able to come out and win all four of these games in a row, that's going to tell a lot about this team and their ability to persevere."
He said the trip has been good preparation for the postseason, when the most games Liberty would have to play in a row is three in three days, to win the Southeast Lacrosse Conference tournament.
"To play this well four days in a row, makes me feel very good about our chances at nationals," McQuillan said. "The next MCLA poll comes out on Tuesday and hopefully, we'll be able to punch into the top 10."