The Lady Flames celebrate after Thursday's victory over Pacific. (Photo courtesy of Red Rocket Photography)
Natalie Barr drilled home the game-winning goal 1:03 into overtime as the No. 1E seed Liberty Lady Flames outlasted the No. 4W seed Pacific Tigers, 2-1, Thursday afternoon at Longwood's Athletic Complex. With its first-round NorPac Tournament victory, Liberty advances to Friday's semifinals against the No. 3E seed, Davidson.
Liberty improves to 15-5 overall on the season with its program-record seventh consecutive victory, while the Tigers' overall record falls to 5-13.
The Lady Flames controlled the pace of the game during the game's opening 35 minutes of play. Liberty was able to hold possession of the ball at Pacific's end of the field and keep steady pressure on the Tigers' defense.
After a slow start, the Lady Flames notched their first shot of the contest in the 16th minute of play. Jordan Richardson fired a shot on goal, but Pacific's goalie Ashlee Schleiser knocked the ball away for a save.
During the final 10 minutes of the opening stanza, Liberty forced six penalty corners and tallied five shots, but was not able to find the back of the cage. Barr and Helen Doolittle each notched a pair of shots in that span for the Lady Flames.
Liberty outshot the Tigers in the first half, 10-1, and earned eight penalty corners to Pacific's zero.
Pacific notched the game's first goal with 19:34 remaining in the contest. Melissa Maultsby laced the ball into the Liberty circle from the right side of the field. The ball was deflected high into the air and over Liberty goalie Mallory Cuccio. The Tigers' Samatha Romero collected the bouncing ball and knocked it into the open net to put Pacific on top, 1-0.
Liberty knotted the game at one in the 58th minute. Erin Dombach dribbled through the middle of the Tigers' defense into the top of the circle. The freshman fed the ball to the right corner of the cage and Hannah Doherty ripped the ball past Schleiser into the back left corner of the goal for her seventh tally of the season.
The Lady Flames nearly took the lead in the 64th minute, when Barr led a four-on-two breakaway for Liberty. The Northern Ireland native fired a pass to the left side of the circle to Sarah Gipe. The freshman gathered the pass, but her shot was smothered by Schleiser to keep the score tied at 1-1.
Neither team was able to push in the go-ahead goal as regulation time ticked down to zero.
Liberty entered the 15-minute sudden-death extra period with a 1-0 mark on the season in overtime contests. The Lady Flames almost ended the game a mere 30 seconds into overtime. Dombach dribbled up the right side and into the Pacific circle. She struck a bullet toward the cage, but the ball sailed just wide.
Liberty quickly regained control of the ball and reentered the Tigers' circle. Dombach delivered a pass to Barr on the right side. Barr smoked a shot past the Pacific goalie and into the cage for the game-winner, 1:03 into the overtime period. It was the NorPac East Division Offensive Player of the Year's team-high 15th goal of the season.
The Lady Flames dominated the contest statistically, outshooting the Tigers by a 24-2 margin and holding an 11-0 advantage in penalty corners. It was the first game this season that the Liberty defense has held the opposition without a penalty corner.
For the game, Liberty goalie Cuccio recorded the victory without making a save, while Schlesier tallied 12 saves for the Tigers.
The Lady Flames will now need to defeat Davidson for the third time in 13 days in order to make their first NorPac Tournament championship game appearance. Liberty blanked the Wildcats, 4-0, at Liberty Field Hockey Field on Oct. 21. The Lady Flames then recorded a 3-2 victory at Davidson during their regular-season finale on Sunday.