After LSU spent the past month trying to return to the team that began the season with eight straight wins and peaked with a school-record No. 5 national ranking, the Tigers found such a performance when they needed it most.
Faced with a must-win situation in order to have the opportunity to extend its season LSU rallied from a one-goal deficit in the first two minutes Thursday against the Southeastern Conference champion and No. 4 Arkansas, a team that carried a 14-game winning streak into the regular season finale for both teams.
LSU scored twice in the first half for a 2-1 halftime lead, extended that to 3-1 early in the second half and was able to withstand a charge from Arkansas to post a 4-2 victory, handing the Razorbacks their first loss in league play.
“We talk about resilience a lot and making sure we were going to have to overcome a lot of adversity in the match,” LSU soccer coach Sian Hudson said. “That Arkansas was going to ask big questions of us, and we needed to stay focused on the task at hand and the game plan and I think the girls did incredibly well to not to get fazed by that early goal, keep playing, keep the belief.”
LSU, which trailed both Texas A&M and Florida in the league’s standings going into Thursday’s finale, was able to pass both teams with its victory, coupled by a pair of defeats from both teams.
LSU (11-6-0) qualified for the 16th appearance in the SEC tournament where the ninth-seeded Tigers open play Sunday at 3:30 p.m. against eighth-seeded Georgia (11-4-2) at the Orange Beach (Ala.) Sportsplex, a match that will be televised by the SEC Network.
The winner meets top-seeded Arkansas at 5 p.m. Tuesday in second round action.
“I’m so proud of the players’ response, the overall grit and resilience and belief we had,” Hudson said. “That’s what we had at the beginning of the season when we were on our winning streak. It was great to see that come back in that game.”
Leading scorer Tinaya Alexander, this week’s SEC Offensive Player of the Week, scored two goals and added an assist to lead LSU’s victory. It was her cross into the box on a free kick that led to the Tigers tying up the match at 1-all when Shannon Cooke powered in a header into the right corner in the 18th minute.
Rammie Noel made it 2-1 with a clinical left-footed goal that curled around a pressing defender inside the 18, giving LSU a lead it would never relinquish.
“I think the emotion everybody felt for the girls who were celebrating Senior Day really helped give us a lift,” said Hudson, who honored 10 seniors before the game. “Even though we conceded (a goal) early, from the first whistle we were on the attack. We definitely had a lot of energy, a lot of grit and determination about us.”
LSU’s defense set up the team’s third goal with Alexander picking up a loose ball and scoring her first goal since Sept. 17 – the team’s SEC opener against Mississippi State.
The Tigers were able to overcome a miscue in its defensive third that resulted in a goal for the Razorbacks in the 67th minute and goalkeeper Mollee Swift stood tall during a barrage of shots in the last 15 minutes of play.
Alexander came back after being on the bench for 12 minutes with an injury and added life to LSU’s postgame party with a goal in the last 10 seconds to account for the final score.
The Tigers, who closed with three wins in their last four games, picked up their fourth win of the season over a ranked team which against Arkansas represented a highwater mark for the program with its defeat of the fourth-ranked opponent.
One of the team’s that added misery during LSU’s five-game losing streak during conference play was Georgia which handed the Tigers a 2-1 overtime defeat in Baton Rouge.
Noel tied the match in the 28th minute but it was Georgia’s Mollie Belisle’s goal in the 99th minute that resulted in a sudden victory for the Bulldogs who are 3-3-1 since that game, including two straight losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
“It’s a great opportunity to face an opponent we felt like we should have beaten earlier in the season,” Hudson said. “It’s a little bit of revenge, that’s for sure. The big message now is we’ve got to string together performances and be consistent and not let ourselves down like we did in recent weeks.”