The Liberty Flames ended a defensive struggle with a golden goal late in the first overtime for a 1-0 win over the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs in the Big South Conference schedule opener for both squads, Tuesday night at Osborne Stadium.
Despite outshooting the Runnin' Bulldogs, 11-3, in regulation, the Flames broke through for the game-winner at 98:50. Defender Alex Dominguez kept the ball from going out of bounds at the end line, sending the ball into the middle of the 18-yard box. Midfielder Pepe Segarra tipped the crossing pass to the left post for an open Tresor Mbuyu, who blasted home his seventh goal of the season, for a 1-0 victory.
Liberty moves to 1-0 in conference play and 5-2-1 overall. Gardner-Webb drops to 0-1 in conference and 3-3-1 overall.
An expected high-scoring affair between two of the top scoring offenses in the country, the match turned into a tightly played defensive match. Liberty held Gardner-Webb, the nation's top scoring team entering the night, to just three shots during the 98:50 of play. The shutout is the Flames' fourth of the year.
Play was confined to the middle of the field during the first 20 minutes. Each team did garner two corner kicks each, but neither came away with a shot attempt.
Big South Attacking Player of the Week Severin Soerlie fired the first shot of the game for Gardner-Webb during the 22nd minute. However, the attempt was easily turned away by Liberty goalkeeper James Knoebel.
Fouls by the visitors gave the attacking Flames several free kicks during the opening 45 minutes. A shot attempt from 25 yards out by midfielder Shaun Stocker during the 26th minute sailed high and later another attempt after a free kick by Stocker in the 31st minute was stopped by Runnin' Bulldogs' keeper Jacob Beyer.
During the final two minutes of the half, a ball lofted from the left sideline to the far post found Liberty defender Nico Bellarde for a header. But, his attempt went wide.
Neither team was able to break through for a goal in the second half. After Gardner-Webb opened the half with pressure in the attacking zone, Liberty's Mbuyu worked free by dribbling around a defender and ripping a shot, which Beyer knocked down with his hands and then smothered to keep the contest scoreless during the 60th minute.
The Flames did not allow the Runnin' Bulldogs a shot over the final 37:27 of the second half. During the span, Liberty attempt five shots, including a liner from the top of the box during the 79th minute which Beyer saved.
Gardner-Webb got off the first two shots of overtime, both high over the goal, during the first four minutes of the extra session.
During the 99th minute, the Flames found the game-winner on their first shot. Midfielder Kevin Mendoza burst into the open along the left sideline near midfield and lifted the ball into space near the right side of the 18-yard box, where Dominguez ran it down and started the eventual golden goal.
Liberty outshot Gardner-Webb, 12-5, and held an 8-3 edge in corner kicks.
Knoebel made two saves in the contest, while Beyer recorded five for Gardner-Webb.
Liberty next travels to Buies Creek, N.C., for a Big South Conference match against the Campbell Fighting Camels, Friday. Match time at Eaker Athletic Complex is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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