STARKVILLE, Miss. - The first career goal by redshirt freshman Tori Sample proved to be the game-winner as she buried a centering pass by fellow freshman Jade Kovacevic in the 81st minute to deliver a 1-0 victory for the visiting Tigers over SEC West rival Mississippi State on Friday night at the MSU Soccer Field.
Sample netted her first collegiate goal on a 12-yard strike at the 80:44 mark to lead the Tigers (5-4-3, 1-3-1 SEC) to their first Southeastern Conference win of the 2012 season while pushing their winning streak against the Bulldogs (7-4, 0-4-1) to eight-straight matches dating back to the 2005 season.
LSU is also unbeaten in its last nine matches against its division rival with an 8-0-1 mark in the series since the 2004 campaign.
Kovacevic generated the attack after forcing a Mississippi State turnover just inside the midfield stripe. After racing into the area, Kovacevic got end line and waited for her support to arrive while shading herself from a Bulldog defender. She then cut inside and centered the ball to Sample streaking into the area for a one-time strike under the crossbar from near the penalty spot for what proved to be the game-winning goal for the Tigers with just 9 minutes, 16 seconds to play.
"I was going to take it up the middle, but decided to go end line because that's what Brian (Lee) teaches us to do," Kovacevic. "I looked up to see if there was a chance for an early ball, but there wasn't at that point. I just waited for support and crossed it to Tori (Sample). She struck it well."
A native of Seabrook, Texas, Sample has played her way into the midfield rotation for the Tigers this fall after she was forced to redshirt a year ago when she suffered a season-ending knee injury during preseason training in the weeks leading up to the 2011 season.
Sample became the ninth different goal scorer for the Tigers this season as she is now tied as the team's second-leading scorer with five points on the campaign.
"We've been needing to get in the box more going forward, and I just kept running when Jade took it end line," Sample said when describing the play in front of her. "She played a great ball to me. It was an easy ball to strike. I just one-timed it and we were excited to see it in the net. She made a great effort to create the chance for us."
The stat sheet showed a deserved victory for the Tigers as they held a 15-12 edge in total shots and an 8-4 advantage in corner kicks for the match.
The Tigers nearly struck first in the 28th minute when freshman striker Colby Maffei pounced onto a loose ball in the box and fired an open 14-yard strike on frame that forced a diving save from Bulldog goalkeeper CJ Winship. Maffei came within inches of netting her second goal of the season as Winship dove to her left and punched the ball out for an LSU corner kick.
The Bulldogs responded just three minutes later with their best opportunity of the opening frame in the 31st minute on a dangerous run into the area by left winger Elisabeth Sullivan.
Sullivan played a through ball to freshman striker Honeye Heydari streaking through the middle of the box as Heydari fired a strike off the left post from 12 yards near the penalty spot. Sophomore striker Dana Forbes nearly buried the rebound with a 10-yard strike from the right side of the area as the ball was then cleared out of danger by the Tigers.
The sides played to a scoreless draw at halftime with the Bulldogs holding a slight 7-6 edge in the shot count and 4-2 advantage in shots on goal, while the Tigers led the way 4-2 in corner kicks.
LSU's junior goalkeeper Megan Kinneman made six saves on the night for her fourth shutout of the campaign and 10th clean sheet of her career in leading the defensive effort.
"We had to roll up our sleeves and grind out a win tonight," said LSU head coach Brian Lee. "It was a great night in Starkville for the LSU Tigers as volleyball was also able to come in and get a big SEC win as well. We've certainly got a lot more work in front of us with another tough road test on Sunday afternoon."
After securing their first SEC win of the season on Friday night, the Tigers will make the trip to Athens, Ga., on Sunday afternoon to battle the Georgia Bulldogs at the UGA Soccer Complex with kickoff set for 3 p.m. CDT. ESPNU will televise Sunday's match live as part of its continued coverage of SEC soccer.