BOILING SPRINGS N.C. (www.BigSouthSports.com) - No. 4 Liberty survived a defensive struggle and advanced on penalty kicks past No. 5 Radford in the first game of the 2011 Big South Men's Soccer Championship Thursday at Greene-Harbison Field on the campus of Gardner-Webb University. The Flames will play the winner of the play No. 1 Coastal Carolina/No. 8 UNC Asheville match, Friday at 4:00 pm in the semifinals.
Both defenses refused to crack in the early going, as neither team recorded a shot attempt in the first 15 minutes of the first half. Liberty earned a corner kick in the 22nd minute, but a strong defensive play from Radford GK Ryan Taylor kept the score at 0-0.
Radford threatened on counter attacks throughout the first half, but Liberty's backline defense headlined by Greg White and First Team All-Big South defender Uriah Bentick prevented the Highlanders from scoring. Liberty threatened late in the first half when substitute Travis Joseph broke away in transition but the Radford defense, led by Second Team All-Big South defenseman Aldo Macias and Matt Jansen, swarmed to prevent the Flames from breaking through. Radford's First Team All-Big South forward Iyiola Awosika played a nice cross after finding room inside the Liberty defensive third but there was no one there on the receiving end.
The score remained 0-0 after Liberty's offense responded with a strong attack generated by Philip Aseweh, who sent a pass into the box that went a touch too far for fellow Flame Timothy Bullock and was cleared by the Radford defense.
Radford earned back-to-back corners in the 44th minute but Big South All-Freshman goalkeeper Scott Sutarik and the Liberty defense held. Both teams ended the first half with two shot attempts and none on goal, with Liberty's Darren Amoo and Sam Duininick and Radford's Carter Mills and Luis Grande accounting for the first half shots.
Amoo, a First Team All-Conference forward for the Flames, came out firing in the second half but his shot attempt in the 50th minute to break the 0-0 tie was blocked by the Radford defense. In the 56th minute, Libery's Aseweh played a cross into the box just in front of Radford's goal, but it sailed through untouched. Radford countered with its best offensive opportunity to that point, but a shot by Awosika went wide on the left side.
The match stayed scoreless after Liberty garnered a one-on-one opportunity in the 61st minute. Amoo broke through the Radford defense and got a shot off after Taylor came out of the goal, but his shot stayed left and missed the mark.
In the 65th minute, Radford nearly got a goal after Grande attempted to play a cross into Liberty's box. The ball bounced around and nearly got past Liberty GK Sutarik, but he was able to recover and prevent the ball from rolling through.
Liberty forward Kyle Breitmeyer took a one-touch pass from Amoo in the 71st minute and fired a shot toward the goal, but it went high and the match stayed scoreless.
Radford's Awosika recorded the first shot on goal of the match in the 73rd minute, taking a pass from Bernardo Ulmo inside the box and firing it on frame, but it was saved by Sutarik. Radford continued to press Liberty's defense late in the second half with Kevin Fleming, Grande, and Ulmo all recording shots between the 74th and the 80th minute marks.
Liberty fought back, as midfielder Richard Nyarko appeared to get a clear look at the goal in the 81st minute but the Radford defense blocked it. It was the seventh blocked shot of the match combined for the Highlanders and the Flames.
The 84th minute saw Radford's Grande send a pass which penetrated the Liberty defense and landed in front of Liberty's goal, but Dario Redondo was unable to capitalize on the receiving end and the threat went for naught.
In the final minute of play, Liberty's Juan F. Nino sent a corner into the box, but Taylor knocked it away. A frantic offensive attack by Liberty in the final seconds fell through and the score remained 0-0 entering overtime.
Both teams responded and came out firing in the first overtime period, as Amoo put the Flames' first shot on goal in the 91st minute after Radford GK Taylor came out of goal, but the Highlanders' Janssen stepped in to make a team save to keep the score knotted at 0-0. A shot attempt by Radford's Brian Gwanzura threatened the scoreless tie, but it went off frame.
The pace of play continued to quicken as both teams pressed for the go-ahead goal. Liberty nearly broke through on a shot by Aseweh, but it was saved by Taylor and the score stayed 0-0 to force a second overtime period.
Grande stole a pass on Liberty's side of the field in the 102nd minute and outpaced the Flame defense to get a shot off, but it stayed left. The Flames countered on a counterattack opportunity generated by Joseph, but his cross sailed through untouched. Liberty gained another scoring chance, but a pass sailed just high for Alex Verville.
Liberty advanced 5-4 on penalty kicks after two scoreless overtime periods. Liberty's Sutarik and Radford's substitute goalie Dane Wilson each made impressive saves when they had to with Liberty's All-Freshman performer ultimately making just enough plays to advance.
Liberty moves to 9-6-2 on the year, while Radford ends its season at 9-8-2. Liberty will be making its 13th appearance in the Big South Tournament semifinals. Liberty, which defeated Radford 3-0 in the regular-season, will face the winner of No. 1 Coastal Carolina / No. 8 UNC Asheville in the Conference tournament semifinals.
Liberty Head Coach Jeff Alder
"A fantastic game to start the conference tournament. Both teams defended to the death. No one likes to go to penalty kicks, but our guys came through. I am really proud at how our guys defended to go to penalty kicks. Radford has an excellent program and we have the utmost respect for their coaches and players."
Radford Head Coach Marc Reeves
"Obviously a close-fought final match of the season for our team. We want to wish the best of luck to Liberty in the next round and all of the teams throughout the Big South Conference tournament. Radford appreciates Gardner-Webb University's hospitality and we look forward to hosting the tournament in 2012."