No. 16 Liberty's defense keeps No. 14 Savannah at bay
March 2, 2013 | Savannah, Ga.
The sport of lacrosse has several similarities to hockey, but it may be even more like basketball in the way teams run their fast breaks and set up their offense from the perimeter.
In Saturday afternoon's 14-8 MCLA Division II victory at Savannah (Ga.) College of Arts and Design, a perennial power in the Southeast Lacrosse Conference, Liberty's men's lacrosse team did an excellent job of denying the Bees' attackmen the ball in the crease, the equivalent of the post in basketball, forcing them instead to shoot from the outside. Only there is no three-point bonus in lacrosse.
"Offensively, we know we're going to be able to create opportunities," Flames head coach Kyle McQuillan said. "The difference was our defense was very formidable. When they had the ball on the offensive side of the field, we really took away the looks that they were trying to find and were very aggressive. SCAD underestimated how physical we were and how successful we were at taking the middle of the field from them."
Sophomore goalie Ethan Kamholtz made 22 saves and Liberty's defense kept the Bees' potent attack at bay.
"Ethan, our goaltender, we weren't nervous about him being able to stop the majority of the shots from the outside," McQuillan said. "SCAD has always been a very dominant offensive team, so to keep them to eight goals is great."
The Flames, ranked 16th in the latest MCAL DII poll, improve to 3-0 heading into Sunday's game at Coastal Carolina.
McQuillan said the win, against the MCLA's 14th-ranked DII team, was even more impressive than the Flames' triumph at George Washington, a Division I program.
"SCAD has been a perennial powerhouse in the MCLA, at least since we joined the league in 2010," he said, noting the Bees won the SELC championship that year and have earned one of 20 national berths in each of the past three years. "For us to go into their house and to beat them by six goals was good."
Liberty outshot Savannah (1-3) by a 40-30 margin and gradually extended its advantage in time of possession.
"It was pretty even in the first half, about 50-50," McQuillan said, noting the Flames possessed the ball close to 75 percent of the time in the second half. "We were able to slow things down and take our time because we had the lead and we were trying to protect that lead, while they were trying to force the ball and were turning it over."
Liberty actually won all four quarters, including the first and third by 3-1 scores, and held an 8-5 halftime edge.
"We took the lead early and never gave it back," McQuillan said. "From the very beginning it was clear that the game was in our control."
But McQuillan didn't underestimate the Bees' ability to rally from behind.
"We played them last year and we were up three goals and they were able to battle back and wound up winning, so I had that in the back of my mind," he said.
Freshman attack Ryan Miller (five goals, one assist) and senior attack Joe Gargiulo (four goals, one assist) paced the Flames' attack while freshman middie Bryce Mrakovich probably had the best all-around game with two goals and two assists to go along with his nine ground-ball pickups.
Fellow freshman faceoff specialist Charles Fianko won 12 of 22 faceoffs for the Flames, who were effective in their fast break attack, but didn't rely on it as much as it did in wins over Charleston (S.C.) and George Washington.
"We had quite a few transition goals, but probably less than we did in the GW game," McQuillan said. "When we had that lead, we slowed things down and were able to run our offense."
In Sunday's game, scheduled to start at noon, McQuillan expects a tough challenge at Coastal Carolina (2-2), which started the season ranked in the top 25.
"They've fallen out of the rankings, (but) they're a very physical team, which is great," he said. "Playing back-to-back games is going to be tiring, but we are healthy and have our legs under us and I'm confident we should be able to come out and control that game as well. They play a very aggressive style so we're going to have to match their physicality."
With a win over the Chanticleers, McQuillan would expect the Flames to continue to rise in the MCLA rankings, possibly trading places with Savannah, which started the season ranked No. 10 before losing close contests against St. Andrews and the Coast Guard.
This week's MCLA ranking will come out on Tuesday morning, a day and a half before Liberty's next game, a "Black Out" game set to start at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday at home against Tennessee Wesleyan.