Flames rally from early deficit, storm past USF in third
March 11, 2014 | Tampa, Fla.
Playing in its first season as an MCLA Division I team, Liberty University's men's lacrosse team knows it can't overlook any opponent on its schedule this spring.
Head Coach Kyle McQuillan may have underestimated the University of South Florida (4-4) in Tuesday night's second game of the Flames' spring break trip to Florida, even as they were seeking to bounce back from the season's first loss, Monday at Florida State University.
Liberty (5-1) got off to another slow start before rallying from a 4-1 deficit after the first quarter and out of a 5-3 hole at the half by outscoring the Bulls 6-1 in the third quarter. The Flames then held off a furious fourth-quarter comeback bid to emerge with a 10-9 triumph in Tampa.
"USF played with a lot of heart," McQuillan said. "They were upbeat, very vocal, a group of guys who were really pushing for a win. We definitely got a game out of them tonight and we were fortunate to get out of there with a win."
After giving up six unanswered goals in the second quarter at FSU, Liberty scored six times in the third quarter at USF.
"It took us until halftime to find our rhythm," McQuillan said. "Lacrosse is such a game of momentum, with back and forth shifts. The theme today was to not panic, but to be patient and play our game and we started coming back."
Playing at night helped the Flames beat Florida's heat, after struggling in the mid-day match at FSU.
"Bryce played phenomenally, both on defense and offense," McQuillan said, noting his steal sparked a Flames fast break that led to their final goal. "They tried to isolate one of their guys, who was trying to dodge from up top and take it to the net. Bryce made contact and took the ball right out of the air before pushing it on transition."
Senior attack Kurt Tobias, who scored the game's first goal off an assist from sophomore attack Ryan Miller, received the outlet pass from Mrakovich and returned the favor, feeding Miller for the fast-break finish that stretched the Flames' edge to 10-6.
Moore, from Naples, Fla., scored his first two goals on powerful shots, the first off a fast-break assist from Mrakovich and the second assisted by junior attack Chris Armstrong, trimming USF's lead to 4-3.
Sophomore midfielder Brett Bernardo, who injured his ankle in the loss at FSU, assisted Mrakovich's first goal of the second half before scoring the go-ahead goal on a shot from 20 feet out, lifting Liberty to a 6-5 lead it would not relinquish.
"His ankle's not 100 percent and he lacked the ability to dodge and cut, but he's one of our best outside shooters," McQuillan said.
Moore scored on another blistering shot from the perimeter before junior attack Craig Darling penetrated through three defenders in the box and buried his shot to extend Liberty's lead to 8-6.
Tobias then set up Mrakovich for a behind-the-back finish that pushed the margin to 9-6 before Miller capped the Flames' scoring and USF netted three unanswered goals against Liberty's prevent defense.
"We had the lead and were trying to protect it," McQuillan said, noting the conservative strategy almost backfired. "After the game, you question whether we should have kept the pedal down and created some separation or tried to slow it down."
The Flames lost senior long-stick midfielder Mike Zumpano to a first-quarter injury and senior defenseman Travis Briggs filled in for the remainder of the contest and picked up three key ground balls. Sophomore faceoff specialist Charles Fianko led the Flames with five ground ball pickups and won 11 faceoffs, mostly in the third quarter, igniting the attack.
Junior goalie Ethan Kamholtz made 10 saves on the night, including a couple spectacular ones.
McQuillan hopes to see rapid progression in the Flames' fast-break attack on the tail end of this road trip.
"We've got to go back and do the things we do well," he said. "Transition lacrosse has to be part of our game for us to be successful. We're built to score quickly. Hopefully, we'll be able to find that in our last two games."
The Flames play at the University of Central Florida in Orlando on Thursday at 6 p.m. before concluding the spring swing Friday at 5 p.m. at the University of Florida in Gainesville.