Nov 17, 2009

Flames fall in Big South Championship to Winthrop

by Axel Cerny

The Liberty Flames men’s soccer team may have been frustrated to come so far in the end of the year tournament and fall one game short in the championship, but they can certainly look back and say they gave it all they had.

Liberty head coach Jeff Alder was nothing but proud of his team’s effort.

“Obviously, the players competed as hard as they could. I’m proud of our guys as they did everything we asked them to.”
Fighting their way through injuries, fatigue and the difficulty of playing three games in three days, the Flames took the Winthrop Eagles down to the wire in the final, falling 2-1 at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C.

If the Big South Tournament showed anything about its conference, it was clear that the top four programs in the Big South — Liberty, Winthrop, Coastal Carolina and High Point — each have the ability to beat each other on any given night. Not only did these four have some high-level conference games throughout the year and into the tournament, but they also represented the conference strongly against nationally ranked programs. Liberty played two current top 10 teams to a close loss and a tie, falling to No. 2 North Carolina 1-0 and playing to a 1-1 draw against No. 6 Virginia.

The Flames opened up their Big South Tournament run on Friday night with a 1-0 win against No. 6 seed UNC Asheville. In the defensive struggle, the Liberty men rode a first half goal from midfielder Alex Verville to victory, but the win came at a cost as the Flames goalkeeper Andrew Madero, who has been a wall in the net all year, injured his knee. Madero swallowed the pain throughout the game, but did not return the rest of the tournament.

On Saturday, Liberty took the field against No. 7 seed Radford. The Flames scored twice early on and put up a strong defensive effort to blank Radford for their 12th shutout of the year. Flames leading scorer, Darren Amoo, put the team on the board first with his 14th goal of the year, in the 22nd minute.

Sunday afternoon’s final against No. 4 seed Winthrop was the last game that the Flames would step on the field together this season. It looked like a promising start to the Big South Championship for the Flames as they got on the board only 1:41 into the match, as Verville placed a cross off the foot of Amoo in the far corner of the net. Play settled down over the next 35 minutes, with Liberty nearly scoring on a shot from forward Timothy Bullock that was handled
by the Winthrop keeper.

The Eagles brought the score back to a tie right before the half, however, on a shot from the top of the 18-yard box off the boot of Winthrop midfielder Stephen Nsereko. The wear and tear of the last three days of hard play started to show as Liberty headed into the half.

The second half was all defense until the 73rd minute when Winthrop’s Matt Skonicki headed a shot off the crossbar and then rebounded his own shot with another header that gave Winthrop a 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish.

In the last 20 minutes of play when this goal was scored, the Flames found their defensive back four featuring three redshirt freshman and one true freshman, something the team had not featured all season, but that became necessary as the fatigue and injuries from the tournament took their toll.

After the contest, Amoo, Bullock and defender Greg White were named to the all-tournament team.

Liberty finishes the season with a record of 12-5-3 and a sixth appearance in the Big South Championship, but will certainly hold a strong appetite to be the team that makes that winning play next year after coming so close to winning the championship this year.

Contact Axel Cerny at
axelcerny@gmail.com

 


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