BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. - Liberty used goals from three different players as the fourth-seeded Liberty Flames earned a 3-1 victory over second-seeded Gardner-Webb Sunday afternoon at the 2011 Big South Conference Men's Soccer Tournament at Gardner-Webb University's Greene-Harbison Stadium in Boiling Springs, N.C. Liberty captures its second Conference crown as a Big South member, and receives the Big South's automatic bid to the NCAA Men's Soccer Championship. It is the Flames' second Big South title, having last won in 2007.
Kyle Breitmeyer put the Flames on top with his first goal of the season in the 11th minute. Liberty forward Phillip Aseweh slashed around a defender and fired a shot that ricocheted off a Runnin' Bulldog defender and right to Breitmeyer, who then fired a shot that went off the hands of a diving Scott Krotee and into the goal. Breitmeyer's heads-up play put Liberty up 1-0 early.
Gardner-Webb turned up the intensity on the offensive end, trying to get a quick equalizer to tie the match. An well-placed through ball by Chris Davis to Denzel Clarke threatened the Liberty defensive third, but All-Freshman Team keeper Scott Sutarik came out to grab the ball and stop the Runnin' Bulldog threat.
The opening minutes saw physical play from both teams, as both teams clawed in pursuit of a conference title. The teams combined for 12 fouls in the first 25 minutes of the game.
Liberty scored again in the 24th minute, as Breitmeyer was taken down inside the box and Liberty was awarded a penalty kick. Aseweh cashed in on the penalty kick, striking the ball past the keeper on the right side and into the back of the net to give the Flames a 2-0 lead. The goal was the seventh of the season for the First Team All-Conference player.
The Flames nearly got a third goal in the 35th minute, but a potential one vs. one opportunity for forward Travis Joseph was countered with a great recovery effort by GWU's First-Team All-Conference defender Jon Ole Reinhardsen to keep the Liberty lead at 2-0.
Gardner-Webb was unable to put consistent pressure on Liberty's defensive third, which was able to limit the Runnin' Bulldogs offensive opportunities thanks to solid defense from Greg White and First Team All-Big South member Uriah Bentick on the backline.
GWU threatened for the first time in the 42nd minute off a free kick attempt by John Sargent from 35 yards out, as the ball found its way through to the keeper Sutarik, but it was saved.
GWU got a quick scoring chance in the 40th minute off a cross from Jalen Gathers to Sargent, but the junior's shot attempt went left. Liberty countered in the 42nd minute when Darren Amoo found space on the left side of the Gardner-Webb backline, but his shot was saved by Krotee. Another cross from Gathers in the 59th minute nearly resulted in a goal for Gardner-Webb, but a header by Clarke was blocked away Sutarik to keep the score at 2-0 in favor of the Flames. GWU got good looks by Davis and Ernesto Gaita 65th minute, but both shot attempts went wide.
Liberty got a decisive third goal in the 72nd minute when Amoo broke free off a through pass Sutarik, flicking the ball over the Gardner-Webb keeper to put the Flames up 3-0. Amoo's second half goal gave him seven for the season and made him Liberty's all-time leading goal scorer.
Clarke got open for a shot in the 74th minute, but the shot he fired from 15 yards out was swatted by Sutarik and glanced off the top of the crossbar to keep the Flames' lead at 3-0.
Gardner-Webb fought to the end for its home crowd, getting a goal back in the 85th minute when Kevin Nolan jumped on a loose ball in the box and put it past Sutarik to make the score 3-1. The Flames held the Runnin' Bulldogs last-minute rally attempt in check and held on for the 3-1 victory.
Liberty improves to 11-6-2 on the year, while Gardner-Webb drops to 9-8-4. With the win, Liberty advances to the NCAA Men's Soccer Championship.
Gardner-Webb Head Coach Tony Setzer
"I tip my hat to the Flames of Liberty and we wish them the best of luck the rest of the way. They earned it here today, and they will be great representatives of the of the Big South Conference. Our kids fought hard, but when you give up two early goals like that you have to fight an uphill battle the rest of the game. It's been a good year for us and we look forward to taking more steps forward next year."
Liberty Head Coach Jeff Alder
"I am very humbled by what God has done through this group of men. Gardner-Webb played a great game and we have a lot of respect for their coaches and team."
Big South Championship All-Tournament Team
Chris Phillips, Liberty (MVP)
Juan F. Nino, Liberty
Greg White, Liberty
Scott Sutarik, Liberty
Scott Krotee, Gardner-Webb
Eric Asanin-Miroux, Gardner-Webb
Jon Ole Reinhardsen, Gardner-webb
Adam Sewell, High Point
Karo Okiomah, High Point
Pedro Ribeiro, Coastal Carolina
Kjarten Sigurdsson, Coastal Carolina
Alex Isern, Winthrop
Mitchell Cardenas, Campbell
Lassi Hurskainan, UNC Asheville
Aldo Macias, Radford