CHARLESTON, S.C. - The top-ranked Radford Highlanders scored early and often in the first half to defeat the No. 5 Liberty Flames, 5-1, in the fifth game of the 2011 Big South Women's Soccer Championship presented by Musco Sports Lighting Friday at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C. Radford advances to Sunday's championship match, its first appearance in the title game since 2008, and will play the winner of No. 2 Winthrop/No. 3 Campbell for the Big South's automatic bid to the NCAA Women's Soccer Championship.
It was the first Tournament meeting between Radford and Liberty since 2005.
The Highlanders struck first, getting on the board in the eighth minute of action. Rachel Conway's shot was blocked, but Sahar Aflaki was able to pick up the rebound and send it past LU's Karen Blocker to give the Highlanders the 1-0 lead early on.
Aflaki was at it again, adding her second of the day 15 minutes later to give Radford the 2-0 lead halfway through the first half. Kara Nay's shot was denied by Blocker, but minutes later, Nay was able to get the ball to Aflaki on a breakaway. Aflaki put it on net for her third goal of the tournament.
Radford's Che' Brown came up with a big save on Liberty's Geena Swentik before the Highlanders took the ball up the field. Radford's Mary Wiley beat Blocker on a shot from the right side, tallying the Highlanders' third goal of the day just three minutes later to give Radford the 3-0 lead.
Liberty's Aimee Luurtsema tried to get the Flames on the board with a strong shot off of a corner kick, but her attempt went wide. Luurtsema took another attempt, as did Helen Pereira, but Brown stood tall in net for the Highlanders to keep the Flames off the board.
Despite their three-goal cushion, the Highlanders kept up the pace on offense. Julie Ruh'e took a shot, but it was blocked before reaching the net. Aflaki picked up the rebound and sent it in for the hat trick, giving the Highlanders the 4-0 lead with five minutes to go in the half.
Blocker would make one more save on Stephanie Herb before the Flames moved up the field in the closing minutes of the half. Maddie Boone took two consecutive corner kicks for the Flames, sending it over to Ariana Espinoza who headed it in from the corner to put Liberty on the board with 30 seconds to go in the first half.
The Flames attempted 12 shots in the second half, but couldn't find the back of the net. On the other end of the field, Blocker came up with four saves on Radford, but the Highlanders would still take the 4-1 lead and advance to the finals.
Top individual scorers: Radford - Sahar Aflaki (three goals), Mary Wiley (goal), Kara Nay (assist). Liberty - Ariana Espinoza (goal), Maddie Boone (assist).
Team shots on goal: Radford: 10, Liberty, 11. Goalkeepers: Radford: Che' Brown (9-1-0) - 10 saves, Liberty: Karen Blocker (8-8-3) - six saves.
Radford advances to its first Championship match since winning it all in 2008. The Highlanders are the first No. 1 seed to advance to the Big South title match since Coastal Carolina in 2008, and are looking to become the first No. 1 seed to win the Tournament title since 1997. Radford's four goals is the most scored by a team in the Championship Tournament since 2006 when Coastal Carolina beat Radford, 4-0, in the quarterfinals.
Radford improves to 14-5-1 on the year, while Liberty ends its season at 9-8-3.
Radford Head Coach Ben Sohrabi
"Sahar finished some nice goals tonight and I was extremely proud of her. It was a game of two halves. With the wind at our back in the first half we took advantage of that and scored some goals and the second half became about defending. I thought we handled it appropriately and got the job done."
Liberty Head Coach Jessica Hain
"Radford played well and did a great job of attacking from the beginning. We did a great job of playing to the end and putting a goal in the back of the net, but unfortunately it wasn't good enough for the win today."