LSU soccer rises to the occasion, knocks off No. 4 Arkansas to reach SEC tournament

The LSU soccer team congratulates Shannon Cooke after she scored the team's first goal in Thursday's 4-2 victory over Arkansas. PHOTO BY: LSU athletics.

LSU’s soccer team is headed back to the beach.

The Tigers, needing a win over the nation’s fourth-ranked team and some additional help in two other matches, enjoyed a hat trick of good fortune.

LSU conceded an early goal to Arkansas but rallied with a pair of goals in the first half and added two more in the second half, including the game-sealing goal from Tinaya Alexander with 10 seconds left for a 4-2 victory Thursday at LSU’s Soccer Stadium.

The Tigers (11-6-0 overall, 4-6-0) garnered the 9th seed in the 10-team Southeastern Conference’s postseason tournament and will face 8th seed Georgia at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. They also registered two more milestones for the program with a win over its highest ranked opponent and fourth win in a season over a ranked foe.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the players,” LSU soccer coach Sian Hudson said. “We talked about this all season. When our backs are against the wall the best comes out of us and tonight, just a phenomenal effort.”

Not only did LSU face a must-win situation against Arkansas, the SEC’s regular season champion and riding a 14-game win streak, but the Tigers also received additional help with wins from Missouri over Texas A&M, 1-0, and South Carolina over Florida, 2-1. A&M and Florida both owned tiebreakers over LSU and were ahead of the Tigers in the standings to reach the SEC tournament going into Thursday’s play.

“It was a spirited match from our team,” Hudson said. “It was a great effort from us to come from behind after the first goal and I can’t tell you how proud I am of the players. They played a fantastic game, and this is a huge confidence booster heading into the SEC tournament for us.”

Alexander, the team’s leading scorer, found the back of the net for the first time since her team’s SEC opener against Mississippi State and finished with a brace – her 8th and 9th goals of the season – to go along with an assist.

LSU also enhanced its NCAA possibilities with its win over Arkansas, the nation’s No. 2 RPI team. The Tigers picked up their fourth win over a ranked team this season which will certainly improve their No. 55 RPI.

Arkansas (14-3-0, 9-1-0) took a 1-0 lead in the first 1 ½ minutes into the game on Parker Goins’ goal.

The Tigers responded in the 18th minute on Shannon Cooke’s header when Alexander sent a long cross off a free kick from the right side of the field, tying the game at 1-1.

LSU, which was outshot 22-11 and 8-6 in shots on goal, took the lead for good at 2-1 in the 43rd minute on a goal from Rammie Noel. Molly Thompson’s hustle saved a through ball from Athena Kuehn from going beyond the end line, found Noel who dribbled just inside the 18 and sent a left-footed rocket into the upper 90.

Alexander ended her nine-game scoring drought when she pressed an Arkansas defender inside the 18. She secured the loose ball, dribbled into the box against two defenders and curled a left-footed shot on the ground around a closing defender into the left side of the goal for a 3-1 lead in the 47th minute.

“So proud of this group, I love them,” Alexander said after the match. “I’m excited to get back on the scoresheet and help this team in any way I can. We just brought a great amount of pride for one another to the field tonight and it showed.”

Arkansas, which had won its last 12 road games, took advantage of miscue by LSU goalkeeper Mollee Swift to get within 3-2 in the 67th minute.

Swift was attempting to control the ball with a wide pass that Arkansas’ Ann Podojil stole and scored on a shot into the right corner.

Swift atoned for that mistake with four of her five saves in the final 15 minutes of play against an aggressive Arkansas offense which fired off 12 shots in the second half.

Alexander, who left in the 78th minute with a left leg injury, returned to play in the final minute where she pushed the ball up the left side of the field. After losing possession momentarily, she regained the ball against two defenders and beat goalkeeper Hannah Warner with a shot into the center of the goal.

It was the most goals scored this season against Arkansas which hadn’t allowed more than a goal in a game since the season opener.

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William Weathers

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