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    February 25, 2023 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    When Liberty University’s No. 4-ranked men’s lacrosse team’s defense is at full strength, it is difficult to beat.

    “If we can minimize our mistakes, there’s really not a team that can keep up with the brand of lacrosse that we try to play,” Assistant Coach Mike Zumpano said. “We play hard, we play fierce, and we want to establish ourselves and we did that really well today.”

    The Flames (3-1) shut out No. 18 Colorado University (1-1) for the first 22-minutes of the second half, before giving up six unanswered goals in the final 8 minutes — often while playing man-down — and clinging to a 12-11 triumph, Saturday morning at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.

    “Our defensive strategy is not to play uneven,” Zumpano said. “We want to be in as many situations as possible where we can play 6-on-6 and we just gave up those opportunities and they beat us to the punch and capitalized on them. We’ll work to clean that up, but we liked a lot of the things we saw. The ride was working so well that we probably should have pulled away, but we didn’t really capitalize on the opportunities we were given.”

    It was Liberty’s first win over Colorado in three tries, in the teams’ first meeting since 2018, when the Buffaloes pulled out a 17-15 win on the Flames’ home field.

    Freshman faceoff specialist Lance Bruno won 10 of his 18 attempts.

    “We made some mistakes, but at the end of the day we were able to fight and claw and keep ourselves on top,” Zumpano said. “We’re not playing our top brand of lacrosse right now, but it’s early in the season and games like this give us a lot to learn from.”

    The Branham brothers banded together to build Liberty’s lead to 5-0 early on three straight goals in a span of four minutes. Senior Cooper Branham set up freshman Luke Branham for a one-timed, point-blank finish in front off a pass across the box to make it 4-0 at the 6:18 mark of the first quarter before Cooper rifled in a perimeter shot from the left side.

    Junior attack Braden Landry stretched Liberty’s lead to 6-1 with a finish in front off a feed from freshman midfielder Bennett Newman before Jake McIntyre answered for the Buffaloes with a long-ranged shot from the left side that skipped past junior goalie Eric Warnstrom inside the lower-right post.

    Cooper Branham and graduate middie Cameron Carter finished back-to-back runs through the right side of the box with shots into the top-left corner of the cage to stretch Liberty’s lead to 8-2 with 4:52 left in the first half.

    “Cooper’s a leader for us,” Zumpano said. “He’s a guy who is mature and we know that we can depend on. When he’s out here, he makes our team better and that’s a guy that we’re going to need to rely upon a lot. He showed up today and made some great individual plays and helped lead the offense. He was a bright spot. Cameron Carter’s another one. As those guys go, our team will go.”

    After Colorado attack Greyson Mitchell capitalized on a turnover deep in the Flames’ end, Newman scored on a dive into the circle off an assist from Luke Branham at the 3:38 mark to extend Liberty’s lead to 9-3.

    Junior goalie Eric Warnstrom reaches low to make a save against the Buffaloes.

    The Buffaloes netted the last two goals of the half by McIntyre and attack Ben Hamilton, who came out from behind the cage and finished a shot into the upper netting, making it a 9-5 contest.

    After a scoreless opening six minutes of the second half, Carter pushed Liberty’s lead to 10-5 with a beautiful sidearmed slingshot from the right side off a feed across the box from sophomore middie Will Geary.

    Newman and Landry put away back-to-back unassisted scores from the right side of the box to extend the advantage to 12-5 before McIntyre ended the second-half scoring drought for Colorado and a behind-the-back score by Mitchell trimmed the deficit to 12-7 with 7:09 remaining in regulation.

    The Buffaloes continued to build momentum by finishing a fast-break counterattack at the 5:42 mark before midfielder Tre Reyes shot from close range in the left side of the box brought them within three goals with 3:09 to go.

    Warnstrom’s high save of a point-blank shot kept them at bay momentarily, but Jacob Roos’ submarine shot from the top of the box off a crossing pass cut it to 12-10 with 40 seconds left.

    The Buffaloes won the ensuing faceoff and romped downfield for an apparent score, but they called timeout with 32 seconds to go, negating the goal. Colorado made it a one-goal game with 22.4 seconds left on a turnaround finish by Hamilton. After Flames freshman faceoff specialist Lance Bruno won the next faceoff and got the ball to senior middie Remy Newton who worked some precious time off the clock, Hamilton’s last-second shot from near midfield whizzed past Warnstrom just wide right of the cage as time expired.

    “Lance is a guy that we recruited and he’s been dealing with some injuries, but now that he’s healthy, he can be a really great asset for us,” Zumpano said, noting that Bruno won 10 of his 18 faceoffs. “He’s got some good ball skills when the ball’s on the turf and when we’re in a 3-on-3 situation, he makes some good decisions. We’re really thrilled with the performance he had today.”

    Despite falling to Virginia Tech last Saturday at home, Liberty (3-1) moved up two spots in this week’s first regular-season MCLA Division I rankings, while the Hokies moved up three spots to No. 1.

    The Flames will need a similar type of effort on Sunday at noon when they host No. 19 Colorado State — which challenged Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg, Va. — at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

    Sophomore middie Will Geary battles for a ground ball against Colorado.