Flames dominate Volunteers 26-8, clinch SELC playoff berth
April 12, 2019 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's third-ranked men's lacrosse team improved to 13-0 and clinched a spot in the April 25-28 SELC Division I tournament with a 26-8 triumph over Northwest Region rival Tennessee, Friday night at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.
It was the final home game for eight seniors who have played significant roles in the Flames' emergence as one of the top teams in MCLA Division I — goalie Brayden Harriman; defenders Win McKeever, Ean White, Tyler Keen; midfielders C.J. Nichols, Chase Wright, and Chris Mickel; and attack Sam Gregory.
"Being able to finish with the seniors undefeated at home on the season is definitely an accomplishment," Liberty Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said.
"They've put in a lot of work over the last four years so we've just got to give it to them," junior attack Caleb Britton added. "We've been undefeated so far, so we want to continue that through the SELCs and then onto nationals. That's our goal. That's our vision."
Twelve players finished in the scoring column for Liberty, led by Gregory (four goals, two assists), Britton (5G, 1A), fellow junior attack and cousin Elijah Britton (3G, 1A), junior midfielder Derrick Esh (3G, 1A), sophomore attack Thomas Pinel (2G, 2A), Wright (2G, 1A), and junior attack Noah Rude (2G, 1A). Nichols and junior defender Charlie Shier both added a goal and an assist.
Brendan Fischer scored off the opening faceoff for a 1-0 Tennessee lead 12 seconds into the contest before Nichols threaded a pass into Esh for a turnaround finish into the upper netting, tying the game at 1-1 less than a minute later.
Fischer gave the Volunteers (1-7) their last lead at 2-1 with a running shot from the right side before Liberty ignited its transition attack, with Caleb Britton capitalizing off an assist from Gregory. The two Flames connected again less than two minutes later, with Gregory feeding a pass across the box to Britton for a shot into the top-right corner of the cage and a 3-2 advantage with 8:54 left in the first quarter.
At the 7:30 mark, Britton picked up a ground ball near the left post and sent a cross-crease assist to Pinel for a point-blank finish and 4-2 advantage.
"We were hitting guys on the back side and getting them good looks, not being selfish," Britton said. "It all started with Brayden (Harriman) in the cage making saves and hitting the middies breaking out, and they were hustling getting the ball down to us and we were able to put it away."
Nichols started the second-quarter scoring with a low, submarine-style shot from the top of the box that stretched Liberty's lead to 7-3 at the 14:13 mark. Just 50 seconds later, Gregory padded the advantage to 8-3 with a running shot from left to right across the top of the box.
Midway through the second quarter, Caleb Britton stripped the ball from Tennessee's goalie as he attempted to clear it at the top of the box and picked up the ground ball before scoring into a wide-open net for an 11-4 advantage. Britton's fourth goal pushed the lead to 12-4 before junior midfielder Chase Wright netted his first with 6:04 left in the half and Gregory capped a fast break with a spin move and shot from the left side of the box to extend the Flames' edge to 14-4.
"Guys were upbeat and moving the ball well on transition," McQuillan said. "Stamina-wise, they did a good job of wearing down Tennessee, especially with our 10-man ride creating a lot of turnovers and a lot more possessions for our offense to be able to capitalize on."
|Sophomore attack Thomas Pinel sparks a fast break.|
After Wright set up Rude for a finish down low and capped a quick counterattack for a 19-6 lead, Flames freshman faceoff specialist Shane Reynolds won the ensuing faceoff and scored on a running bounce shot to make it 20-6 with 2:22 left in the third quarter.
Freshman attack Cooper Branham capped the third-quarter scoring with a shot at the buzzer off an assist from Elijah Britton, who started the fourth-quarter scoring by taking a pass from Branham behind the net and finishing through the five hole at the 12:07 mark. Branham extended Liberty's edge to 23-6 a minute and a half later by picking up a ground ball in the left crease and finishing through traffic in front.
After a Tennessee score, Rude picked up a ground ball near midfield and sprung a fast break featuring tic-tac-toe passing, with Elijah Britton setting up Branham for the finish from the right side and a 24-7 advantage.
Liberty won 24 out of 37 faceoffs (led by Reynolds, 16 for 21), outshot the Volunteers, 59-27, and held a 63-28 advantage in ground-ball pickups. Junior Ryan Reynolds replaced Harriman in the cage and made eight second-half saves while allowing only four goals.
The Flames will conclude their regular season next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Virginia Tech with the Northwest Region's top seed for the SELC tournament at stake.
"Virginia Tech's a great team and it's always a great rivalry," McQuillan said. "They came in here last year on our senior night and took a victory from us, so we'd like nothing better than to go in and kind of return the favor."