Flames fend off strong Seminole charge late in 11-10 triumph
April 10, 2015 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's men's lacrosse team, ranked 16th in this week's MCLA Division I poll, opened a five-goal fourth-quarter lead on Florida State University, late Friday night at the Liberty Lacrosse Field. However, the Flames had to fend off a midnight comeback bid by the 12th-ranked Seminoles, the highest-ranked opponent they have beaten this season, before prevailing 11-10.
"It was expected," Liberty Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said of FSU's rally. "They're the No. 12 team in the country for a reason. They've had a lot of success, so it doesn't surprise me that they battled back. We obviously had enough of a buffer there and were able to possess the ball just enough to be able to come away with a win. It was a close win, but it doesn't matter. We'll take it."
After suffering their only losses of the season against three teams ranked in the top 10 in a span of four days on last month's spring break road trip to Arizona, the Flames (9-3) improved to 6-0 at home this year and 18-0 over the past three seasons with their sixth win in a row.
"It's something cool to be able to hang our hats on," McQuillan said of the home winning streak. "For three seasons in a row not to lose at home is pretty significant and we'll continue to bring in teams like Florida State to play here. The guys have done well and I think they've respected our home turf and defended it."
The Seminoles (7-3) had revenge on their minds in a rematch of last year's SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference tournament semifinals in Atlanta, won by Liberty in an upset, 15-8.
"They got off the bus ready to play," McQuillan said. "We knew they were going to come and to give us everything we had and rightfully so. Any time a team knocks you out of the playoffs … we would feel the exact same way. Credit to our guys for taking it on the chin and responding."
"We've been preparing for this game, we had it circled on our calendar all year," senior goalie Ethan Kamholtz added. "I know they did, too. This was one of the biggest home games we'll have and we just did a great job of executing our game plan. We just really wanted that win. We needed it and we played like that."
Junior midfielder Brett Bernardo scored four goals and distributed four assists to ignite the Flames' attack. Junior attack Ryan Miller assisted Bernardo on Liberty's only goal of the second quarter, for a 4-3 edge, before netting a hat trick with the last two goals of the third quarter and first of the fourth to stretch Liberty's lead to 9-6. He darted out from behind the right side of the goal and pocketed a shot into the top left of the cage past Seminoles goalie Alex Perez to extend the Flames' advantage to 7-4.
Kamholtz started the transition that led to Miller's third score with an outlet pass to junior defender David Mitchell from behind the goal. He sent the ball upfield to Freshman attack Nick Lombardozzi, who assisted Miller from the right side.
"Dave's a great long pole to handle the ball and we give him all the trust in the world to push anything," Kamholtz said." We have a great connection."
Lombardozzi added two goals and one assist, senior attack Chris Armstrong contributed a goal and an assist, and junior middies Bryce Mrakovich and Chad Moore tallied a goal and an assist, respectively, to complete the Flames' scoring.
Armstrong tied the game at 3-3 with 1:48 left in the first quarter after taking a pass from Bernardo near the left post. Then in the fourth, he helped boost Liberty to its largest lead, 11-6, by making a great move behind the goal and feeding a pass to the cutting Lombardozzi for a top-shelf finish.
"We had production from the guys we've relied on all season," McQuillan said. "Everyone played their part and really played well. Defensively, we held a team that has had a lot of success offensively to 10 goals. We know we probably could have minimized some of the bleeding but we've got to stay out of the penalty box. We gave up too many man-up opportunities to Florida State."
After allowing the Seminoles to cut the five-goal deficit to one in the final 46 seconds of regulation, Mitchell intercepted a long Hail Mary outlet pass from Perez to seal the victory for the Flames in the defensive zone.
Junior faceoff specialist Charles Fianko and Kamholtz turned in typically strong performances for Liberty. Kamholtz helped the Flames maintain an early 1-0 lead by using his body to block a point-blank shot by FSU midfielder Stefan Yocom, who had cut into the crease. He later preserved a 4-4 tie at the half with a last-second save of a shot on a fast-break counterattack.
Liberty locked up a SELC tournament berth when it found out Saturday's scheduled home finale would go down as a forfeit win over Kentucky, which folded its program for the remainder of the season.
"Next Friday night, we finish out the regular season with a big game at Virginia Tech which could essentially decide who the No. 1 seed is going to be going into the playoffs, which is huge," McQuillan said. "If we're a No. 1 seed, we get to play an unranked team (in the first round). But if we go in as a No. 2 seed, we'll have to see Florida State probably in the first round, Georgia Tech in the second round, and maybe Virginia Tech in the (championship again) and that's not a pathway we want to go."
McQuillan said this year's SELC Tournament will be more loaded with strong teams than ever before.
"It's going to be a bit of a nightmare with the amount of good teams we've got in there," he said. "It's not going to be fun. It'll be fun for me, but for the guys, it's going to be pretty grueling with three games in three days against what could potentially be all top-25 teams."