Flames prevent Panthers from staging another comeback
February 22, 2015 | Lynchburg, Va.
The last time Liberty University's men's lacrosse team played Davenport — on the first game of a spring break road trip to Michigan last March — banks of freshly cleared snow surrounded the field, as was the case for Sunday afternoon's rematch at the Liberty Lacrosse Field.
But the Flames weren't about to forget that meeting for another reason, the fact that they gave up a halftime lead by allowing the Panthers to score the first four goals of the second half in an 11-9 defeat.
This time, after opening an early advantage, Liberty (2-0, ranked No. 18 in the MCLA preseason poll) fended off Davenport's second-half comeback bid and put the No. 19 Panthers (0-1) away in the second half of a 13-9 triumph.
"At half, (Head) Coach (Kyle McQuillan) mentioned that last year they were down at half, so we kind of had a different mindset — to run the same game plan, just keep the pressure on and don't let up at all," said junior attack Ryan Miller, who scored six of the Flames' first seven goals and totaled seven goals and one assist. "We were definitely fired up for it. We knew they were going to come back and they made a good game of it, so you've got to give them credit that they kept fighting."
Liberty set the tempo of the contest from the opening faceoff, won by junior midfielder Charles Fianko. Miller netted the first goal after more than a minute-and-a-half possession, bouncing in a turnaround shot from the top right side off an assist from junior midfielder Brett Bernardo.
Davenport didn't advance the ball into Liberty territory until nearly four minutes had elapsed in the first quarter and Miller completed his hat trick less than six minutes after the opening faceoff. After sophomore defenseman David Mitchell checked a Panthers attackman near midfield, Bernardo picked up the ground ball and found Miller for a fast-break finish that pushed Liberty's lead to 3-0.
He made it 4-0 by cutting through the crease and receiving a feed from freshman attack Nick Lombardozzi with 5:27 left in the first quarter. Lombardozzi (three assists) later snapped a three-goal run by the Panthers and extended the Flames' advantage to 12-8 with his only goal in much the same fashion. Following another faceoff win by Fianko, Lombardozzi scored off a crossing pass on transition from Miller with a quick-release shot from the right side.
"He's a good player, he's athletic and it was a pretty high pass, so it was nice to see him go up and get it and make a finish at the same time," Miller said.
Liberty sophomore middie Chad Moore (two goals, two assists), who netted the first goal of the second quarter from point-blank range off a behind-the-cage assist from senior attack Chris Armstrong, capped the scoring for the Flames with a strong running shot through traffic in the right side of the box. Between those two scores, he helped set up the last goal of the first half by shuffling a ground ball to junior middie Bryce Mrakovich. Mrakovich charged through the center of the box before sending a pass to Armstrong for a turnaround finish and an 8-2 lead with 3:32 to play before halftime.
Davenport netted the last two goals of the second quarter to cut the deficit in half before Liberty responded by scoring the first three goals of the third quarter to maintain control.
Bernardo put away an assist from Moore just 30 seconds into the action before senior goalie Ethan Kamholtz saved a shot by Jack Turcotte and started a transition the other way, setting up Mrakovich, who bounced a shot in from the top right side.
After freshman middie Jon Kilian helped clear a pack of Panthers and the ball out of the Flames' defensive end, Miller converted his seventh score with a dodging run and well-placed finish after a passing sequence from Armstrong to Lombardozzi. That stretched Liberty's lead to seven goals, 11-4, matching its largest of the game.
"It was real nice to see especially some of our younger guys step up and get real scrappy for the ground balls," Miller said. "There's obviously a couple plays where we get too excited and push it a little too hard, but for the most part we know how to settle it back and make the right plays."
Liberty has two weeks to prepare for its next contest, its SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference Northwest Region opener at George Washington on March 7, before embarking on its spring break trip out west for three games against teams ranked in the MCLA Division I Top 25 — No. 14 Arizona on March 10, No. 9 Grand Canyon on March 12, and No. 2 Arizona State on March 13.
Images by Ty Hester/Liberty University