(Photo by Kevin Schoonover)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Georgia Tech men's lacrosse team made the trek to Knoxville, Tenn., to face two former conference foes in Tennessee and Liberty to open the 2021 season and came away with a pair of victories.
Eager to face a team in over a year, the Yellow Jackets' trip opened against the Volunteers on Friday night. The Jackets took some time to settle into the game as the teams exchanged empty possessions before Sam Eck opened the scoring with an unassisted goal five minutes in.
Shortly after, freshman Brooks Baro scored his first collegiate goal on an assist from Devin Raun. Tennessee was able to get the next goal before Raun assisted Jack Maginnes in transition. Raun closed the first quarter with one of his own.
Gabe Banks got on the board to start the second quarter with an isolation move through the heart of the defense. Zach Schenken took an isolation from behind to register his first goal of the season and Baro and Maginnes each added another goal in the frame to give the Jackets an 8-4 halftime lead.
The third quarter was all Jackets as they were able to keep the Vols off the board and added goals from Eck (2), Baro and freshman Pierce Quarles.
In the fourth quarter, Eck once again opened the scoring. Tyler Seifert was able to get on the board while Schenken added another before Eck's final goal and Max Lucas closed the scoring for the Jackets.
The Tech defense was stingy allowing only one second half goal lead by senior Mack Poulson and backstopped by Rob Kruszeski. Freshman Will Cero was dominant at the face off dot winning 17 of 23 draws. Tech was able to play nearly their entire roster with several players getting their first taste of college lacrosse. Nine different Jackets recorded a point lead by Eck's five goals.
The Jackets quickly turned their focus to the Liberty Flames in a rekindling of what had been a budding rivalry. The two teams had faced off several times before not seeing each other in 2019 when both teams were ranked in the top ten and advanced to the elite eight of the national tournament.
The foes were slated to meet in 2020 before the season was cancelled amidst the pandemic. The Flames came in with two scrimmages and two games under their belt to work out the kinks while the Jackets had to quickly learn from the night before.
Both teams took a little time to get their feet under them in the hotly contested game. Eck once again opened the scoring when Maginnes hit him with a feed while driving from behind. The Flames answered two minutes later.
The Jackets regained the lead when Raun found a streaking Eck once again in transition and he fit the ball in a tight window between the goalie's head and the near post. After some sloppy play from Tech, the Flames responded in kind to tie the game to close out the first quarter.
Gabe Banks opened the second quarter scoring when he sent a rocket past the Liberty keeper off a feed from Pierce Quarles. The lead was short lived as the Flames scored a hard step down shot shortly thereafter. The Flames then took their first lead of the game on a well-executed question mark dodge. Eck scored once again to tie the game, but the Flames answered to regain the lead at 5-4 going into half time.
In the third quarter the Jackets came out with a renewed focus and energy. After giving up two goals following failed clears in the first half, they cleared the ball perfectly in the second half limiting Liberty's possessions. The Jackets also turned up the pressure in their own ride holding Liberty to under 50 percent clearing in the second half leading to several long defensive stretches and keeping the ball out of the hands of the potent Liberty offense.
Eck opened the scoring once again in the third quarter on a feed from Quarles this time. Baro scored a driving goal on the next possession, shooting past a screen. Liberty was able to answer and tie the game on their next possession. After the Flames goal, the Jackets next possession held several resets of the shot clock along with a ride back before Jameson Wilkins drew a slide before getting the ball to Quarles who ran off a screen from Wilkins and hit Banks for a rocket of a shot past the Liberty keeper.
The Flames would once again answer the bell and responded with a goal of their own. Tech continued to swarm the Flames and got several extra possessions to close out the quarter. Schenken found Quarles inside the tightly compacted Flame's defense for an inside finish before Banks caught a shot off the post and was able to fire it in before the Flames keeper was able to find the ball again. Tech lead 9-7 after three quarters.
Eck scored again to open the fourth quarter. Seifert got on the board when he dodged and drew a slide but both defenders left him and he put a bounce shot past the keeper. Then Eck found Banks on extra man for hard wing shot past the keeper to give the Jackets a 12-7 lead.
Eck then dodged again and found Devin Raun on the backside for a high hard shot that found the back of the net after the Flames had scored two straight to tighten the game up some. The Flames added two more goals before Tech was able to add an empty net insurance goal from Quarles.
Tech assisted on nine of their fourteen goals and got points from eight different players including seven (5,2) from Eck. The midfield line of Eck, Quarles, and Banks combined for 16 points on the day.
Tech's aggressive ride held Liberty to 13/25 clearing and was set up by relentless play from the attack and midfield and aggressive stalking by defensemen Poulson and Curran Myers. Kevin Lewis racked up four ground balls on the defensive end and was calm and composed in the clearing game. The rope unit of Devan Knapp, Zeke Day, Jack Sommers, Dylan Walter, and Cole Christensen harassed the Liberty midfielders all day and were highly effective between the lines.
Cero battled at the faceoff dot winning 13 of 26, but he won several important faceoffs in the third quarter helping fuel the big run from the Jackets. Tech out-shot the Flames 52-35 and out groundballed them 35-30. Goalie Rob Kruszevski made nine saves on the day.
by E.J. Freeman