In a battle between two teams coming off tough losses earlier in the week, it was Westminster that bounced back Thursday to stay in the county race.
The Owls scored a pair of second-half goals to rally past Liberty for a crucial 4-3 road win that spoiled the Lions’ Senior Night.
Westminster (4-1, 7-3) junior forward Ashton Stewart scored the deciding goal with 8:15 left in regulation as the Owls rebounded from a loss Tuesday against Century. The Lions meanwhile suffered a second straight loss after falling to South Carroll.
“It was definitely a big game to win,” Stewart said. “We didn’t play our best game, but we fought hard enough to win. Earlier this week, we lost our Senior Night so we just [wanted] to come out here and take their Senior Night.”
Despite playing most of the game up a man after a red card eliminated Liberty (3-2, 6-2-1) senior defender Tyler Miner from the contest, the Owls fell behind early in the second half.
Liberty senior Ryan Smith created a scoring opportunity with a hard charge into the box, drawing Owls keeper Hutton Steier away from the goal to defend. Smith slipped a pass to fellow senior Jarod Kuether and the midfielder knocked in the open look for a 3-2 advantage just two minutes into the second half.
“It was one of the proudest performances, especially in a loss, that I’ve ever had,” Liberty head coach David Abarbanel said. “I don’t think we’ve ever been down a man, in my decade here, that early in a game and to [continue to] fight — I thought we were better in large portions of the game. We go from here. We are still very good, we faced a lot of adversity tonight. Happy with the performance, not happy with the result, but very happy with the performance.”
The lead by Liberty didn’t last long as the Owls responded with the tying goal just four minutes later when junior Jimmy Gogol scored off a nice pass from forward Joshua Lindenstruth.
That set up an exciting finish where Westminster made Stewart’s late goal stand by denying the Lions a last-second scoring chance. The Owls cleared the ball out of the goal box and time expired before Liberty was able to take a corner kick that could’ve tied the game.
“The important piece is to take a game that we came out flat in on Tuesday and to come in assertive and aggressive today,” Westminster head coach Jim Reigel said. “To see us come back that is the resilient piece — for us to come back in a game [against Liberty] that has always been a tough one for us.”
The drama at the end of the game was matched by the intensity at the start of the contest.
Three minutes into the game, a physical play in the box led to a corner kick for Westminster. Attempting to clear the well-placed corner, Miner got his hands on the ball inside the box and received a red card.
Liberty went a man down and found itself down a goal when Westminster senior Tony Kunz cashed in on the ensuing penalty kick.
“Just a freak thing,” Abarbanel said about Miner drawing the red card. “No blame on the player. Just an instinctive thing. It sucks, but it happens and we move on.”
Liberty tied the game minutes later in a rather unusual way. Westminster’s defense cleared the ball 10 yards from the goal and the Lions took advantage on the ensuing throw in. Senior Ryan Smith put the ball toward the goal and the ball curved in to tie the game at 1.
The teams traded goals once more in the first half with Westminster scoring on a free kick by junior Edwin Alfaro and Liberty responding with a goal from senior Chase DiCocco at 5:40.
The game created a little separation in the county standings as the Owls and Lions each try to track down Century with the Knights currently sitting in first at 5-0 in the county. The Owls are just a game back with a contest against Winters Mill coming up next. Meanwhile, the Lions play Century in the final game of the county slate Oct. 12.
Westminster 4, Liberty 3
Goals: W – Tony Kunz, Edwin Alfaro, Jimmy Gogol, Ashton Stewart. L – Ryan Smith, Chase DiCocco, Jarod Kuether.
Assists: L – Austin Wadlington, Ryan Smith W – Jack Heefner, Joshua Lindenstruth.
Saves: L – Hutton Steier 8. Riley Morsberger 9.
Halftime: Tied, 2-2.