Flames scorch Crimson Tide in Senior Night showdown at Liberty Lacrosse Fields
Four players netted hat tricks to ignite Liberty University’s men’s lacrosse team’s attack in a 21-2 rout of Alabama on Senior Night, Friday at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.
The Flames (8-1, ranked No. 4 in the MCLA) honored its 10 seniors in a pre-game ceremony and remembered the Ukrainian people in harm’s way with a moment of silence before the singing of the national anthem and opening prayer.
Liberty proceeded to dominate the Crimson Tide (1-7) in nearly every statistical category, outshooting its guests by a 49-17 margin and winning the ground ball battle, 51-19.
“We had an expectation that we would be able to control the pace of the game from the beginning and we just decided that there’s a brand of lacrosse that characterizes our team that we need to continue to play,” Flames Assistant Coach Mike Zumpano said. “We were able to get most of our subs in, so it was good to be able to give them a real chance to see how they execute in a game scenario and some individual feedback that they don’t usually get (in practices).”
Liberty capitalized on two of its three man-up opportunities, both in the fourth quarter, and held Alabama scoreless on eight chances — four in the second quarter and four in the third.
Senior attack Cooper Branham, sophomore midfielder Keaton Mohs, and freshman middie Will Geary netted four goals apiece, with Branham and Geary also distributing two assists, and graduate attack Carter Elliott added three goals and an assist to pace the offense.
Graduate Ryan Reynolds (3 saves) and sophomore Eric Warnstrom (5 saves) both played one half between the pipes and allowed one goal apiece.
Mohs came out from behind the right side of the cage and finished unassisted for a 1-0 lead at the 12:22 mark of the first quarter.
Branham received a pass from senior middie Thomas Pinel in the right side of the box and skipped a bounce shot into the back of the net to double the edge with 8:24 left in the quarter before Pinel finished unassisted and Elliott converted Mohs’ feed from behind the cage from point-blank range, extending Liberty’s lead to 4-0 with 7:23 to play. Moments later, Geary finished a running shot down the right side before Branham put away a pass from freshman middie Ezra Anderson with a one-time catch and release right in front of the crease for a 6-0 advantage with 5:52 to go.
Reynolds saved a bouncing shot and started a fast break and freshman middie Evan Shock ended it to stretch the lead to 7-0 with 4:22 left in the first. Mohs then received an entry feed from Branham and put it past Alabama goalie Daniel Tolan after a pump fake from right in front for a commanding 8-0 advantage.
Branham started the second-quarter scoring at the 12:55 mark when he took a pass from senior middie Ryan O’Connor (1 goal, 3 assists) and rifled it past Tolan before Elliott received a feed from Geary and put away a running shot from left to right across the goalmouth.
Alabama’s Michael Downey ended the shutout with a submarine shot from the top of the box that whizzed past Reynolds, trimming the deficit to 10-1 with 10:05 to go.
Elliott completed his hat trick with a running shot into the box, extending the advantage to 11-1 before Geary took an entry pass from sophomore attack Calvin Hurt and put away a running shot from near the right post for a 12-1 edge. Geary finished his hat trick with an unassisted score on a running bounce shot that made it 13-1 going into halftime.
With 10:53 left in the third, Mohs capped off his hat trick by taking a short feed from Branham and beating the shot clock with a submarine shot from the left side of the box into the top right corner of the cage.
“Keaton was Keaton tonight,” Zumpano said. “He’s a goal-scorer, he’s a distributor, and he plays unreal defense, so he’s really a jack of all trades for us and we’re thankful to have him on our team. I love seeing him play on the defensive end as well. We just rely on him and he’s got some unique abilities in the way he makes checks.”
Senior attack Mark Rolewicz took Pinel’s assist from behind the cage and fired an overhand shot for a 15-1 advantage with 9:06 to go in the third. Branham made it 16-1 with 6:54 left with a tricky maneuver around a defender and quick-release finish from close range on the left side.
“Cooper has been a top scorer for us for a long time, but has been more of a distributor for the offense in recent weeks, so it was good to see him kind of open up a little bit,” Zumpano said. “We’ve been trying to convince him to start shooting in good places and he’s made some adjustments in shot placement and done really well with it.”
Scott Harris cut Alabama’s deficit to 16-2 with 5:03 to play by picking up a loose ball and beating Warnstrom from point-blank range. But O’Connor responded with a shot down the center of the box and then set up junior attack Liam Jungles with a pass across the box to push the lead to 18-2 with 13:22 remaining. Sophomore middie Ryan Merbach ripped a shot from the top left side of the box into the upper netting to push the gap to 19-2.
Mohs rifled a shot from the top of the box into the top-left netting off an assist from senior middie Cameron Carter, extending the lead to 20-2 before Carter capped the scoring with 35 seconds to go off an assist from O’Connor.
Zumpano and the Flames anticipate much more competitive tests next Saturday, when they will host the University of Connecticut, and Sunday, when they travel to James Madison University for 5 p.m. starts.
“UConn’s always a scrappy team and they’ve always got skilled players and we’ve had trouble with them in the past,” Zumpano said. “JMU is an opponent that we have to play for (an ALC North Region) championship and we have to do it on their turf. There’s no shortage of tough teams ahead as we go right into BYU after that (April 8 for ‘Midnight Mayhem’) and then rival Virginia Tech (April 15 in Blacksburg, Va.), so we’re going to get tournament level tests in the regular season as we finish up here … and we expect that our guys will rise to the occasion.”
“There’s plenty left to play for and we should be building toward a level of confidence after games like this so that we can hit our stride when it comes tournament time,” he added.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Flames Central