Flames fine-tune shot selection in 17-6 domination of new ALC North rival JMU
In the first-ever meeting between Liberty University’s men’s lacrosse team and James Madison University, the Flames outscored the Dukes 6-0 in the first quarter and 4-0 in the third to pull away for a 17-6 victory, Sunday in Harrisonburg, Va.
“It was a good game, and it was an important win that it locked up the No. 1 seed in the ALC North Region and a first-round bye in the (April 29-May 1) ALC Tournament,” Liberty Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. “Getting out to a quick start and an early lead and getting momentum going in your direction makes such a big difference.”
The Flames (10-1) executed their attack with relentless precision, outshooting JMU (7-2) by a 54-23 margin and converting nearly 30 percent of their shots into goals. Senior middie Thomas Pinel (3 goals, 3 assists) and graduate attack Carter Elliott (4G, 2A) both netted two goals in the first quarter, with Elliott capping the scoring with a shorthanded goal off a behind-the-back fast-break feed from sophomore middie Keaton Mohs (3G, 2A).
“Keaton caught the ball and had a defender right on him, and couldn’t get his hands free, but was able to twist and really his only option was a direct behind-the-back pass to Carter,” McQuillan said.
More frequently, Liberty found success from taking a more fundamental approach to setting up teammates for high-percentage shots.
“We want to keep our focus on being simple,” McQuillan said. “Something we’ve done a lot better job of the last four games is being patient and improving our shot selection. Sometimes that means passing on opportunities that are good looks. You want to pass until you get a great look so we can increase our shooting percentage. Offensively, we’re not just putting shots on cage, but those shots are going in.”
McQuillan said mixing up the locations of shots helped to keep JMU goalie Kevin Hennessey off balance.
“Everyone likes to shoot high corners, but it’s good to have variety, and shot selection is big for us,” he said. “We have a lot of guys with different playing styles and guys like Will Geary who has one of the best bounce shots we’ve had.”
Cameron Carter added two goals, and fellow senior attack Cooper Branham and senior middle Ryan O’Connor added one goal and two assists apiece. Freshman middies Ezra Anderson, Evan Shock, and Geary each contributed one goal.
Liberty only outscored the Dukes, 5-4, in the second quarter, despite winning 8 out of 10 faceoffs and 15 of 19 ground balls, and outshooting the Dukes, 19-4, over that 15-minute stretch. The Flames recalibrated their attack after halftime to seize a commanding 15-4 advantage.
“It was good to come away with a comfortable win today,” McQuillan said. “Getting back to fundamentals in the second half, we were able to continue to gain separation. The message was simple: we always want to come out of that halftime like it’s a new game.”
Graduate goalie Ryan Reynolds made nine saves, and the Flames allowed only one goal on seven man-up situations for JMU. While Liberty was successful on 20 of 21 clear attempts, the Dukes only cleared 7 out of 14.
“Our 10-man ride came into play today,” McQuillan said. “We were able to create some turnovers and really made them earn their possessions.”
The Flames, ranked No. 4 in MCLA Division I, return to the Liberty Lacrosse Fields for their 10th annual “Midnight Mayhem” matchup Friday at 11:59 p.m., and it has the potential to be an instant classic with a College For A Weekend (CFAW) crowd on hand for the battle against No. 1 BYU (11-0).
Liberty will then conclude its regular season April 15 at Virginia Tech, which upset No. 3 host Clemson on Sunday, 21-11.
“There’s a lot to look forward to in the last couple weeks of the season, playing probably two of the top-ranked teams in the country,” McQuillan said. “If we can take care of business on Friday against BYU, we’ll be back in the running for the No. 1 ranking.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer