Just when it seemed LSU would take a one-goal lead into halftime in Sunday’s second-round match in the Southeastern Conference tournament, Ole Miss countered to pull even with what could have been a back-breaking moment.
Instead, it was the Tigers showing support for each other and talked about remaining unified for another half to keep their dream alive.
No. 14 LSU pushed sixth-seeded Ole Miss into overtime and it was the duo of Meghan Johnson and Tinaya Alexander combining on the game-winning goal to send the Tigers to the tournament’s quarterfinal round with a 2-1 victory.
Johnson took a pass from Wasila Diwura-Soale, drove down the right side of the field and found Alexander on a run into the 6-yard box who beat her defender and the goalkeeper into the left corner for a golden goal with just seconds remaining.
“Some people were a little bit down, that Ole Miss kind of had the momentum,” LSU sophomore goalkeeper Mollee Swift said. “Halftime was important for us. We had a lot of people making sure everyone’s heads were up and realized that it was a 0-0 game. The biggest thing was to play for each other. We couldn’t forget that going into the second half.”
LSU (2-6-2) advanced to face eighth-ranked Texas A&M (7-1-0), the third-seeded team, in Tuesday’s quarterfinal around at 2:30 p.m. at the Orange Beach Sportsplex which will be televised by the SEC Network.
“We got in the locker room and talked about continuing to believe in what we were doing and create chances,” LSU coach Sian Hudson said. “The team’s growing in confidence and in stature. Now it’s a case of whether we can recover and have enough in the tank to go again.”
LSU finds itself having to play its third match in five days, while Texas A&M, which drew a double bye, makes its tournament debut riding a six-match winning streak. The Aggies finished the regular season with a 2-1 verdict on Nov. 6 over the Tigers in College Station, Texas.
LSU avenged an earlier 1-0 loss to Ole Miss with an early goal from Alexander, whose steal near the halfway line resulted in a goal from 15 yards out in the 32nd minute, only to have Ole Miss respond and pull even with a minute left before halftime.
“I thought we showed a lot of resiliency,” Hudson said. “We had a couple of big moments in the first half that didn’t go our way, like conceding (the goal) right before halftime. As the game went on, we had the belief that we were going to come out on top. We created a couple of really good moments in the final third.”
Swift, who finished with eight saves, kept LSU even at 1-all with spectacular play throughout that enabled the Tigers to make it to overtime.
Swift, a native of Papillion, Neb. came up with a key save in the 88th minute on a diving effort toward the left post, punching a shot attempt with her left hand over the crossbar for a corner kick.
Four minutes later Ole Miss had a couple of dangerous chances that Swift gathered or repelled in the 92nd minute. Another diving effort initially stopped a shot that rebounded away in the box that Shannon Cooke eventually cleared for a corner.
Swift then made a save on a header off the corner.
“My No. 1 goal is to obviously not let any goals,” Swift said. “It was important to keep the team’s spirits up because Ole Miss was coming at us really hard. I had to lay my body on the line and try and do everything I could not to let in any goals. I knew we had the ability to counter-attack. Our offense has been amazing so far in this tournament, so I didn’t want to let them down in that aspect. I knew we could push through and get that golden goal.”
LSU, which outshot Ole Miss (14-13), also overcame an offsides call that wiped out a goal on a header in the first half and Reece Moffatt’s penalty kick was stopped in the 66th minute.
The Tigers executed when they needed most with Cooke and Diwura-Soale working to get the ball to Johnson. She recorded her third assist of the season by threading a pass through traffic to Alexander, who swiftly deposited her second goal of the game and team-leading fifth of the season.
The stirring victory earned an opportunity for LSU to atone for another defeat this season. The Tigers overcame an early 1-0 deficit against Texas A&M when Alexander tied the game at 1-1 in the 25th minute only to concede what proved to be the game-winner 10 minutes later.
Swift picked up seven saves against Texas A&M, which held a 25-5 advantage in shots and 9-2 edge in shots on goal.
For the season, she has started eight of nine games, played 862 minutes, made 47 saves (18 in two SEC tourney games) and has a goals against average of 1.36.
“It feels pretty amazing, we had no doubt in our minds that we could go this far,” Swift said. “I don’t think our results during the regular season showed exactly how our team was playing. Coming into the tournament the biggest thing coach stressed was to have belief in our team. It’s finally showing who we are and the ability to win feels pretty great. I think the team is kind of on a high.”