Second-half turnaround lifts Liberty over Clemson in opener
February 20, 2015 | Lynchburg, Va.
Friday night's 10-5 victory over SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference Division I foe Clemson was only the beginning of what promises to be another banner year for Liberty University's men's lacrosse team.
The Flames (1-0) overcame deficits at the end of the first and second quarters to dominate the Tigers (0-2) in the second half at the Liberty Lacrosse Field, where temperatures dipped into single digits.
"With the weather, it was definitely cold and it slowed things down," Flames Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. "We came out of the gates pretty slow. If that's just the result of the first game of the year and just getting the jitters out of the system, then so be it because that second half, we really responded. They only had one goal and it was a man-up goal against our backup goalie and we were able to score seven goals in the second half. It was 4-3 at the half, so to end up winning 10-5 was a good turnaround."
Freshman attack Nick Lombardozzi netted the Flames' first goal before senior attack Chris Armstrong received a cross-field pass from junior attack Brett Bernardo and unleashed a shot from the left side that tied the game at 2-2 with 9:20 left in the second.
Another freshman, midfielder Sam King, scored his first goal as a Flame less than a minute later, taking a pass from Bernardo on the right perimeter, pivoting and firing into the upper netting to lift Liberty to a 3-2 lead.
After a timeout, Clemson responded to tie the game before sophomore midfielder Justin Higgins gave the Tigers a 4-3 lead with 11.5 seconds left in the half by scoring while falling down on the right side.
|Nick Lombardozzi (16), Bryce Mrakovich (20), and others greet Liberty senior Chris Armstrong (4) after one of his game-high four goals in Friday night's win over Clemson.|
Junior attack Ryan Miller tied the contest less than two and a half minutes into the third quarter when Lombardozzi fed him a pass from behind the endline as he cut into the crease for a quick finish. Less than a minute later, Lombardozzi gave the Flames the lead for good by receiving an assist from Miller for a point-blank score into the right side of the cage.
"We were trying to find that third attackman after Kurt (Tobias, Liberty's all-time leading scorer) left last year," McQuillan said. "Nick Lombardozzi did some things tonight to show that he's definitely willing and able to step into that role and hopefully fill it for us."
Bernardo assisted Armstrong, who bounced in a short-ranged shot at the 7:14 mark, before putting away a putback of a shot by Armstrong to stretch the lead to 7-4 with 4:38 to play in the third.
After senior goalie Ethan Kamholtz was issued a 30-second penalty for a check around the cage, Clemson converted its only goal of the second half from close range on a power play, beating freshman goalie Dave Jenson, who had made a great save seconds before.
"A lot of guys stepped up and played really well," McQuillan said. "Ronnie Stringfield, a guy we just added to the roster the last couple weeks as a defensive middie, played outstanding. I thought our defense overall was really stout. We were really aggressive. I know we drew some flags throughout the game, but we were definitely the aggressor in that game."
Three minutes into the fourth quarter, Bernardo lofted a long pass to Armstrong on the left end line where he finished inside the left post to pad the Flames' lead back to three goals at 8-5. With 8:30 to go, Kamholtz made a save and immediately started a fast break the other way. He sprinted the ball past midfield before sending an outlet pass to sophomore midfielder Alexander Ehrich, who set up Lombardozzi in the right crease for a point-blank finish despite being checked from behind on the play.
"I can't keep that kid in the net, but he's dynamic," McQuillan said of Kamholtz. "He makes plays happen and he doesn't get burned on it very often. He's just a huge resource for us. Not only can he stop the ball, but he can spark the offense and move things and it's great."
Armstrong capped the scoring by netting the Flames' 10th goal with 10.3 seconds remaining off a behind-the-cage assist from junior midfielder Bryce Mrakovich.
"It was a good showing and we're happy with the progress we made, especially from the first to the second half," McQuillan said. "The first half, there were some things that we needed fixed and changed and they did that, so overall, it's a good way to start the season. We definitely saw a lot of good things, especially in that second half, so we're optimistic."
After Clemson faces Davenport at 3 p.m. Saturday, the Flames will challenge the Panthers in the second game for both teams at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Liberty Lacrosse Field.