Flames find success on frigid Friday

Men’s lacrosse defeats ACC enemy Clemson

Sparked by a seven-goal, second-half, the Liberty men’s lacrosse team overcame an early halftime deficit to defeat the Clemson Tigers 10-5 in the Flames season opener on a blustery Friday night, Feb. 20.

With temperatures reaching single digits, the Flames (1-0) found themselves down to the Tigers, 0-2 at the end of the first period.

Goals by freshmen attack Nick Lombardozzi, senior attack Chris Armstrong and freshman midfielder Sam King gave the Flames the short-lived 3-2 advantage.

The Tigers responded with two goals of their own to lead 4-3 heading into the halftime break.

Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said he was never worried despite the early lead for the Tigers. McQuillan said he, along with team leaders, told the Flames to stay calm and capitalize on opportunities.

“(The returners) were the ones that were just calming people down, letting them know, ‘We’ve been here, and we’ve done it. We haven’t lost on this field in two years, and it (isn’t) going to happen tonight,’” McQuillan said. “It’s one thing hearing it from your coach, but when you hear it from the players on the field that are making the difference and scoring the goals, it definitely reassured a lot of the guys and helped them play a lot more competitively and with a lot more confidence.”

One of those returners, sophomore defenseman Nate Whyte, echoed McQuillan’s thoughts at halftime.

“We realized that we (needed) to come out harder,” Whyte said. “It was a very slow start, but we realized that these guys shouldn’t be hanging with us, so we just kicked it into high gear.”

The Flames definitely kicked into high gear in the second half, going on a 4-0 run. With goals from junior attack Ryan Miller, the 2014 SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference (SELC) Offensive player of the year, junior midfielder and captain Brett Bernardo, Armstrong and Lombardozzi, the Flames took the 7-4 lead.

The Tigers responded with a single goal, but never again gained the lead in the second half.

In the closing minutes, Armstrong netted two more goals and Lombardozzi also found the net another time, giving Armstrong four on the night. Lombardozzi, the first Flame to score this season, finished with three goals. Bernardo added four assists.

The Flames, ranked No. 2 in the Division I 2015 SELC Preseason Poll, are looking this season to avenge a 2014 loss to Virginia Tech in the SELC Championship game.

McQuillan, the 2014 SELC Coach of the Year, said the team is looking forward to the opportunity to face the Hokies, using the team’s strong second half versus Clemson as a foundation.

“I think we need to get (the Virginia Tech) monkey off our back,” McQuillan said. “We just need to be disciplined. We know we are a good lacrosse team. We know we can compete against anybody in the country. We just have to play the game that we know that we can. We just need to be more consistent, like the second half (versus Clemson).”

Lombardozzi, in his first game in a Liberty uniform, acknowledged the importance of earning a victory in the season’s first match.

“Getting momentum in lacrosse and getting our team working well together is a good thing to get going early,” Lombardozzi said.

Though proud of his team’s ability to pull out the victory, Bernardo said there is still room for improvement.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Bernardo said. “We’ve got a lot of games still ahead of us. We can be satisfied with this game, but in the end it’s all about the next opponent, next goal (and) next practice.”

RODRIGUEZ is a sports reporter.

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