Flames narrowly miss regional bid at conference tournament
April 15, 2018 | Lynchburg, Va.
A steady wind on Liberty University's Intramural Sports Complex turned Saturday's and Sunday's Virginia Conference Championships into a blustery affair for all seven men's Ultimate teams competing for five East Coast Regional Championship berths.
Two extremely competitive matchups with George Mason prevented Liberty from advancing to East Coast Regionals — a 10-9 setback in the third round of Saturday's pool play and a 13-11 defeat in Sunday's fifth-place final.
That match was stopped early in the second half due to lightning and moved to the Liberty Indoor Football Practice Facility with the Flames trailing the Patriots, 10-6.
"We practiced indoors all spring, so that was really comfortable for us," Liberty Head Coach Brendan Phillips said, noting that the Flames trailed 7-3 at the half after some uncharacteristic mistakes. "We got ourselves in a big hole before we came out and tried to win the second half. We got it to 12-11 and couldn't quite get a knockdown in the end."
Liberty opened tournament pool play with a 13-7 loss to Virginia Tech, the No. 12 team in the latest USA Ultimate Division I national rankings, followed by a 13-4 setback to No. 59 JMU. The Flames wrapped up Saturday's action by losing to No. 35 William & Mary, the eventual tournament champion, 13-6, before concluding pool play on Sunday with an 11-10 loss to No. 165 VCU and a 13-6 defeat at the hands of No. 80 Virginia.
The 183rd-ranked Flames won their rematch with VCU, 12-11 in the first round of the fifth-place bracket of the playoffs to reach the final against the 149th-ranked Patriots.
"We led 7-5 at the half before VCU forced turnovers on our first three possessions of the second half and scored each time to take an 8-7 lead," Phillips said. "They went up 10-8 before we battled back and scored four of the last five goals, the last in sudden death. It was a great comeback for our defensive line."
Freshman Pete Curran, who had played on Liberty's top men's flight at the National Collegiate Disc Golf Championships last Wednesday through Saturday, caught the game-winning pass.
|Drew Pettit was a defensive juggernaut for the Flames, according to Head Coach Brendan Phillips.|
Junior captain Austin Heston paced the Flames' attack with nine goals scored while freshman handler Stephen Vernon distributed a team-high 17 assists and anchored the defense along with freshmen Daniel Mills and Ben Reutener (8 goals, 9 assists).
"They were huge difference makers and without their presence on the field, it was noticeable," Phillips said.
Liberty, which lost nine players from last year's team, including eight starters, only graduates three seniors from this year's squad — Luke Byron, Evan Harris, and Evan Trimble, who Phillips described as the definition of a player-coach.
"He was instrumental in challenging the guys and helping the coaches recognize what was going on on the field and making adjustments throughout games," Phillips said.
Video by Gabe Henderson/Club Sports Video Coordinator