LU wins defensive clash with Emory to reach first SELC final
April 27, 2013 | Johns Creek, Ga.
Liberty University's men's lacrosse team, seeking its first Southeast Lacrosse Conference Division II tournament championship, advanced to Sunday's final for the first time in program history with a 10-6 triumph over Emory, Saturday afternoon at Northview High School in Johns Creek, Ga.
Ranked No. 4 in the latest Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association Division II poll, the Flames (15-1), will face 22nd-ranked Savannah (Ga.) College of Art and Design (8-6), a team Liberty beat 14-8 on March 2 at SCAD.
The Bees, perennial powers in the SELC, edged No. 25 St. Andrew's 10-9 in the final seconds of Saturday's second semifinal to reach Sunday's title game, set for noon, when they will try to capture their second conference crown in three years. The game will be webcast live on lax.tv.
"They beat (South East Region opponents) Palm Beach Atlantic and Florida Gulf Coast , so I expect it to be a very close, hard-fought game in the championship," Flames head coach Kyle McQuillan said. "We're very evenly matched and our programs are very similar with regards to our style of play. They play a very aggressive style of defense. We're hopeful and optimistic, and confident our offense is going to show up in a big way."
SCAD may have a motivational advantage, knowing it needs to claim one of the 10 automatic bids for winning a conference tournament title to advance to next month's MCLA Division II national tournament in Greenville, S.C.
"They're always one of those teams in the running, a perennial powerhouse in our division," McQuillan said. "They've made the nationals three years in a row, but I don't see them making it back unless they win it all."
Liberty, meanwhile, in its final season at Division II before moving up to MCLA Division I next year, is almost guaranteed one of six at-large bids, and its first national tournament appearance, even if it doesn't take home its first SELC trophy.
"A national tournament appearance is huge for us," McQuillan said. "But our goal, and what we're fighting for right now, is to win an SELC championship. That means a great deal to us."
Both teams experienced tougher semifinal tests than anticipated coming off huge quarterfinal victories — Liberty by a 21-17 count over No. 6 PBA and SCAD by a 12-3 score over No. 8 Elon, the team that eliminated the Flames in last year's semifinals.
"If you have a very emotional and high-intensity game one night, it's very difficult to come back the next day and perform well," McQuillan said. "Our tanks were a little bit close to empty, but we were able to come out and do what we needed to do.
The Flames outshot the Eagles (6-4) by better than a two-to-one margin (37-18), but weren't nearly as effective in finishing their shots as they were against Palm Beach.
"We definitely didn't come out with the aggressive nature that we usually do," McQuillan said. "Our offense wasn't clicking. Our transition and fast break games were pretty slow and we had a tough time finding the net. We got the looks we wanted, but we just could not capitalize. We hit pipes or missed and the goalie made some good saves as well."
He said the contrast from Friday night's game was like night and day.
"It was kind of funny to go from an offensive game, where we scored almost every time down the field, to a defensive battle," McQuillan said. "To play a team that holds us to 10, that's very few goals for us. Emory kept it very close. They came out and scored first and stayed within two to three goals. It wasn't until the last five minutes of the game that we were able to pull away."
Clinging to a 6-5 lead after being shut out in the third quarter, Liberty attack Joe Gargiulo, an online graduate student who scored seven goals against PBA, netted six more against Emory. He had a hat trick in the fourth quarter alone to break it open, scoring the first three goals off assists from freshmen Ryan Miller (two goals) and Bryce Mrakovich (three assists) and junior Derek Haywood (two assists) before Kurt Tobias, Liberty's all-time scoring leader, sealed the win with an unassisted goal.
Sophomore goalie Ethan Kamholtz made 12 saves and senior long stick middie Mike Zumpano had three steals to anchor the Flames' defense.
Freshman faceoff specialist Charles Fianko led Liberty with nine ground ball pickups, winning 14 out of 19 faceoffs.
"He had a great game," McQuillan said of Fianko, who was manhandled on Friday night by PBA's faceoff specialist. "Ethan had a great game, with consistent goaltending. The Palm Beach game wasn't one of his best, but he bounced back in a very good way and played very well."