Rigo Rojas scored his first goal of the season during the 73rd minute to push the Liberty Flames past the Longwood Lancers, 2-1, in a hard-fought Big South contest, Tuesday night at Osborne Stadium.
Rojas teamed up with Flames midfielder Kevin Mendoza to produce both Liberty goals in the contest. The sophomore from Hinsdale, Ill., assisted on Mendoza's third goal of the season just moments in the game. Mendoza returned the favor during the latter moments of the second half, finding Rojas for what proved to be the game winner.
Liberty moves to 2-1 in Big South play and 6-3-1 overall. The Flames have yet to lose back-to-back games this season. Longwood drops to 0-2 in conference and 0-9-1 overall.
Liberty, wearing pink jerseys on Breast Cancer Awareness night, got off to a fast start with a goal less than a minute into the contest. Rojas tipped a loose ball into open space in the center of the field for Mendoza. The midfielder received the ball in stride and moved forward, before blasting a shot from 20 yards out into the top right corner of the net for a quick advantage.
Carrying play for most of the opening half, the Flames found space in the 18-yard box. Forward Tresor Mbuyu beat a defender on the left side and flipped the ball into the center for midfielder Pepe Segarra. The midfielder moved left for a shot, before trying to drop the ball to the right side. His feet got tangled and a Lancer defender knocked the ball over the end line. Longwood cleared the ensuing corner kick to keep its deficit at 1-0.
The Lancers tied the contest in the closing minutes of the half. Midfielder Josh Hanratty pushed a loose ball between two Liberty defenders for forward Max Poekler. The forward got a step on the defenders and ripped a shot from 25 yards out into the right corner of the net for his first goal of the year and a 1-1 tie at halftime.
Liberty outshot Longwood, 6-5, in the half. The Flames held a 6-2 edge for most of the half, until a three-shot burst by the Lancers closed the gap and tied the score in the final minutes.
Throughout the second half, defensive play by each team provided few opportunities for scoring attempts. The Lancers and Flames combined for seven shots, with Longwood holding a 4-3 advantage in the final 45 minutes.
Longwood was not able to mount any offensive pressure through the first 26 minutes of the half. The Lancers were whistled offside three times during the span and were held without a shot. Meanwhile, Liberty did get a shot from Isidoro Garcia during the 57th minute. However, the defender's shot sailed high.
Kept under wraps for most of the evening, the Flames used a breakout during the 73rd minute to net the go-ahead goal. In the midfield, Mbuyu made a strong move past a defender, drawing additional defenders to him. He dropped the ball to Mendoza who moved toward the top of the box and sent a pass right for Rojas, who tipped it forward into the box. Mendoza went to attempt a shot, but the ball was punched away in front of the goal. Rojas followed Mendoza and tucked the loose ball into the near corner for a 2-1 Liberty lead.
Longwood pushed forward on the attack, looking for the equalizer during the final 17 minutes of play. But the Liberty defense clogged the 18-yard box and allowed the Lancers no shots. Longwood only garnered two corner kicks during the span.
Each team ended the evening with nine shots total, and the Lancers and Flames had five shots on goal apiece during the 90 minutes of play. Longwood held a 4-1 edge in corner kicks.
Liberty goalkeeper James Knoebel made four saves in the contest, while Longwood's Lance Da Silva recorded three saves in the Lancers' net.
The Flames continues Big South play on Saturday. Liberty will travel to Asheville, N.C., for a conference contest with the UNC Asheville Bulldogs. Match time at Greenwood Field is set for 7 p.m.