Fired-up students fan Flames to late-night victory, 10-0 start
March 28, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Student fans turned out in droves after midnight Wednesday, helping Liberty University's men's lacrosse team celebrate a 16-8 triumph over Tennessee Wesleyan in the first-ever "Blackout" game at the Liberty Lacrosse Complex.
"It was awesome with all the fans, the most fans I've ever played in front of, for me and in program history," Liberty junior midfielder Derek Haywood said. "They came out and it was a great atmosphere, absolutely."
On a frosty night in the middle of March Madness, the Flames ignited their attack in the second half to pull away from the Southeast Lacrosse Conference rival Bulldogs (4-4) and improve to 10-0 on the year.
"Ten wins is the most in the history of Liberty lacrosse," Haywood said. "We hope to not lose a game at all this season."
Penalties put the Flames' backs against the wall for much of the first half, but their defense held up under the pressure of the man-down situations.
"We're an aggressive team, we don't apologize for that," Liberty head coach Kyle McQuillan said. "I don't want to say that penalties are OK, but unfortunately, that's going to happen because of the type of defense and the type of game we play. We ask our guys to be physical and get dirty inside."
Offensively, freshman forward Ryan Miller continued to make a case to be the MCLA Division II freshman of the year. Five nights after netting six goals and distributing four assists in a 23-4 rout of Davidson, Miller scored seven more times, including the first and last goals.
"Ryan Miller continues to get more and more goals," McQuillan said. "Seven goals in any game, I don't care who it is against, is pretty significant. Last game, he had 10 points, overall, and this was just a really great effort on his part again. He's had a great season."
Midway through the first quarter, Haywood made a stick save of a ground ball near the right sideline, stoking the Flames' student body crowd, and fed fellow midfielder Michael Strappelli on the right wing before he assisted Miller for his second score in the right crease, giving the Flames a 2-1 lead.
Less than two minutes later, Kurt Tobias made a steal and sent a pass to Joe Gargiulo who faked a shot low before going high to beat Bulldogs goalie Brandon Scott with a shot into the top left corner for a 3-1 advantage.
Back-to-back goals by freshman midfielder Bryce Mrakovich, another freshman of the year candidate, kept the Flames in front, 5-3.
"He may not have as many goals (as Miller), but playing in the midfield position, going both ways, how strong he is on defense, he's got to be considered," McQuillan said. "He's been phenomenal for us."
Later, 20 seconds before halftime, Haywood picked up a loose ball and trampled over Tennessee Wesleyan middle Tyler Caviness on transition before setting up Tobias for a point-blank score from deep in the left crease, padding the lead at the half to 7-3.
"I actually ran over a guy and sent it to Kurt and he finished in traffic," Haywood said. "We did well in transition tonight. I think that's one of the big reasons why we won."
The Bulldogs rallied back within 7-5 less than two minutes into the third quarter after Justin Bell scored his second short-range shot off an assist from behind the cage.
But Liberty goalie Ethan Kamholtz, who made eight saves and picked up five ground balls, sparked the transition game by taking the ball out of the Flames' defensive end all the way up on attack before feeding Miller, who finished with a run from the right side.
Miller made it 9-5 with 5:01 left in the third by converting from deep in the right crease after quick passes from Haywood to Tobias to Gargiulo. He tallied again from the right endline 18 seconds later, following a leaping steal by Mrakovich and transitional charge by Travis Briggs.
Gargiulo completed his hat trick and capped a 6-0 Liberty scoring run for a 13-5 lead in the fourth-quarter, when Haywood also scored twice. Tobias made it 14-6 by slashing through the Bulldogs' defense from behind the left side of the goal before angling a shot in traffic into the right side of the net.
"Our freshman, Ryan Miller, had a phenomenal game," Haywood said. "Kurt (Tobias) did great, too. They've been carrying our team this year with goals."
McQuillan was pleased with the team's execution overall, but not completely satisfied.
"There's always things we got to work on," he said. "I felt like we came out and did all the things we needed to do to win, but not necessarily all the things we wanted to do. There was a little bit of sloppiness. I'm not sure if it was due to nerves, or if it was so late and some of the guys were tired. Overall, it was a good effort, any time you're able to double up on a team. I think it was pretty clear we were the better team. There's just a couple things we need to clean up on both sides of the ball."
20130328 Men's lacrosse Blackout game - Images by Kevin Manguiob/Liberty University