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Liberty’s offense on point to kick off boys soccer season with win at Westminster

The COVID-19 pandemic clearly did not affect the Liberty boys soccer team’s offensive prowess.

Liberty took a two-goal lead midway through the first half and put the game away with a big second half in a 5-2 season-opening win Tuesday against Westminster at Ruby Field.

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After turning away a couple of chances by the Owls, the Lions got on the board with a breakaway score. Liberty won a fight for possession deep in the Westminster zone. Senior forward Drew McLaughlin perfectly timed his run into the box and slid the ball under diving Owls goaltender Avery Lowe.

“We had a plan going in and we got it done tonight,” McLaughlin said.

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Westminster's Christian Burke, left, and Liberty's Michael Pellicciotti both make lunging efforts to reach the ball first during a boys soccer game at Westminster High School on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.
Westminster's Christian Burke, left, and Liberty's Michael Pellicciotti both make lunging efforts to reach the ball first during a boys soccer game at Westminster High School on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. (Brian Krista)

Moments later, Liberty went up 2-0 on a shot from the top of the box by junior defenseman Jarod Kuether. Following a free kick, the Lions and Owls battled for possession inside the goal box. The ball bounced away from the fray and landed on the foot of Kuether who lofted a shot just under the crossbar for a two-goal advantage.

“We have a lot of returning players from a very strong team last year,” Liberty coach Dave Abarbanel said. “They have definitely been champing at the bit [to get back on the field]. I think that really showed. We were definitely ready to play.”

Despite the early deficit, Westminster refused to go quietly, striking less than two minutes later. Off a throw-in deep in Liberty territory, senior midfielder Cameron Doolan gathered the ball just outside the box and beat the goalie to his left to slice the deficit in half.

“We were pretty excited to get out here in the first place,” Westminster coach Robert Brown said. “We played pretty good in the first half and stayed right with them. In the second half it fell apart. They had some phenomenal goals.”

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In the opening minutes of the second half, McLaughlin struck again. On a throw-in, a Lions teammate missed a header attempt, but McLaughlin was there to clean it up and push the lead to 3-1.

Dylan McLaughlin and senior captain Ben Hiebler each added goals in the second half for Liberty as the Lions wore down the Westminster defense and pushed out to a 5-1 lead.

It was an ideal start for a Liberty team looking to build off last season’s success that included the Carroll County Athletic League title.

“We had such a great team last year,” Drew McLaughlin said. “We are just looking to keep that going.”

Westminster’s Eric Wojtkowiak rounded out the scoring with a stoppage time goal in the final minute. It was too little too late for an undermanned Owls squad that was playing without five starters.

“Everybody’s had to face adversity, it is the times we are dealing with,” Brown said. “We had some great performances by guys that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten a chance. That was good to see.”

Goals: L- Drew McLaughlin 2, Jarod Kuether, Dylan McLaughlin, Ben Hiebler. W-Cameron Doolan, Eric Wojtkowiak

Assists: L-Hiebler 2, Michael Pellicciotti

Saves: L-6 (Hutton Steier 6). W-4 (Avery Lowe 3, Riley Morsberger 1).

Halftime: Liberty, 2-1.

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