by Ted Allen | Special to MCLA.us
LYNCHBURG, Va. -- The Liberty men's lacrosse team swept its two fall scrimmage games on a spectacular Saturday at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields, dominating the University of Virginia's NCLL club team, 10-1, in a shortened afternoon contest before routing new Atlantic Lacrosse Conference (ALC) rival North Carolina State, 16-9, that evening.
"The Virginia game was a good way to start out the day," said Liberty coach Kyle McQuillan. "They came out and played exactly the way we asked them to, being patient and methodical. It was a good confidence booster. NC State is much improved and has a lot of really talented players, so it was great to get a competitive game in and we got a good performance out of everybody."
Senior attack Carter Elliott started the second-quarter scoring against the Wolfpack by rifling a shot from the top of the box that stretched Liberty's lead to 3-1.
After NC State struck back, tying the game at four, Elliott sprinted into the left side of the box and nearly knocked over the Wolfpack goalie with his shot that trickled past him into the right side of the cage, lifting Liberty to a 5-4 advantage at the 5:51 mark.
"Keaton had a good performance in both games," McQuillan said. "He is a reliable player. What impressed me the most was at halftime, we told the guys, ‘We've got the deepest 40-man roster in the country and we're going to prove that.' So we went to our younger guys, our freshmen and sophomores, and our production didn't fall off. We were able to maintain the lead and gain some separation. They rose to the occasion when we gave them the opportunity, and definitely took advantage of it."
Senior attack Caleb Britton capped a quick passing sequence with a howitzer of a shot from the left wing — after sophomore defender Reese Hintz sent an outlet to sophomore middie Ryan O'Connor who found Pinel on the right side of the box before PInel reversed the ball to Britton.
Sophomore attack Alex Hutsell sparked a flurry of Flames goals with a shot in traffic before freshman middie Ryan Merbach netted back-to-back spectacular shots to push Liberty's lead to 13-7.
On the first, Merbach sprinted across the perimeter before launching a submarine-styled shot from the right side that sneaked inside the right post. Moments later, he received a pass from sophomore attack Mark Rolewicz behind the cage and put away a bounce shot in the right crease.
With 3:49 to go, Elliott spotted Branham down low with a beautiful assist from near the blue line. Branham pump faked before beating the goalie with a shot into the top right side of the cage for his fourth goal of the game.
Freshman middie Stephen Westlake unleashed an across-the-body shot from a sharp angle into the top-right corner of the cage as he darted down the right side of the box.
"He is a kid that is somewhat quiet and unassuming, but has huge potential," McQuillan said. "He is going to be a fantastic player for years to come."
Pinel capped the scoring in the final minute with a long-range shot through traffic from the top right corner of the box.
Senior goalie Ryan Reynolds played the majority of minutes in goal for the Flames before being relieved by sophomore Noah Kurtz in the second half against the Cavaliers and freshman Eric Warnstrom in the fourth quarter against the Wolfpack.