BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – During a defensive struggle, the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs converted a first-half penalty kick for a 1-0 victory over the Liberty Flames, Saturday afternoon at Greene-Harbison Field. It was the opening contest of Big South Conference play for both teams.
Liberty drops to 0-1 in conference play and 2-2 overall. Gardner-Webb moves to 1-0 in Big South play and 3-2 overall.
Scoring chances were at a premium during the first half, as both teams gave strong defensive efforts.
Host Gardner-Webb took the first shot attempt during the 12th minute. Forward Denzel Clarke pushed a low shot towards the left post. Flames goalkeeper Jeremy Lee, making his first collegiate start, dove out and corralled the shot.
Liberty had its best scoring opportunities midway through the first 45 minutes. Midfielder Jonatan Torres started three unanswered attempts with a shot from the top of the 18-yard box, forcing a save by Runnin’ Bulldogs goalkeeper Mark Swan during the 21st minute.
Less than a minute later, a header by Flames defender Sam Duininck off a corner kick from Torres was punched over the crossbar by Swan, keeping the game scoreless.
During the 24th minute, midfielder Tim Harbison placed a free kick from 20 yards out on net, but once again, Swan was there to corral the attempt.
Gardner-Webb converted a penalty kick at 37:32 for the lone score of the game. After a Runnin’ Bulldog player was tripped up in the box for a foul, Marius Hammermark gave the home team the advantage. The defender scored into an empty right side of the goal on the ensuing kick for a 1-0 edge. It was Hammermark’s second goal of the year.
The half closed with two scoring attempts by Liberty midfielder Tanner Wilcox. On his second attempt during the 44th minute, Wilcox moved into free space on the left side of the field and lifted a shot toward the upper right corner of the net, only to see Swan push the attempt over the net.
The second half opened with the Flames pressuring the Gardner-Webb net. During the 48th minute, midfielder Juan Nino moved into the top of the box and dropped a pass to his left side for forward Kyle Breitmeyer, who pushed a low shot toward the right post. However, Swan was able to stretch out and make a diving stop to preserve the home team’s edge.
During the 67th minute, Swan was once again forced to deflect a Flames attempt over the crossbar. On the second of back-to-back corner kicks, Duininck sent a header from the right post toward the center of the net. Swan punched the attempt over the net, keeping the Runnin’ Bulldogs in front.
Liberty keeper Lee kept the Flames within one with a stop during the 77th minute. Clarke came free in the 18-yard box by running onto a long pass and ripped a shot, which Lee deflected away from the net. Liberty then cleared the ensuing corner kick to keep its deficit at one.
In the final 10 minutes, the Flames moved a defender forward looking for the equalizer, but Gardner-Webb was able to hold on for the win. Liberty’s best scoring chance came during the 88th minute. Breitmeyer, with a defender on his inner hip, ripped a shot from left side of the 6-yard box off the left post.
Liberty held a 20-18 advantage in shots and an 11-5 edge in corner kicks.
Lee recorded eight saves for the Flames, while Swan made seven saves for Gardner-Webb.
Liberty will finish a three-game road swing, next Saturday. The Flames will travel to our nation’s capital for a non-conference match at American. Match time is scheduled for 4 p.m.