TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Freshman striker Summer Clarke bagged a brace with the first goal of the match in the 49th minute and the game-winning Golden Goal in the 102nd minute to lead the LSU Tigers to a 2-1 double overtime victory over Alabama on Sunday afternoon at the Alabama Soccer Stadium to remain atop the SEC standings.
Clarke, who scored a hat trick in LSU’s 5-3 win at Arkansas on Friday night, helped pace the Tigers to a perfect road swing in league play with her five goals on the weekend with both game-winners.
The Tigers (8-3-2, 4-0-1 SEC) have made history with Sunday’s win as they are now unbeaten in five matches to start Southeastern Conference play for the first time in program history. They have also totaled 13 points through five league matches, besting their previous best total of 12 points following matching 4-1 conference starts in 2009 and 2011.
The win also extended LSU’s unbeaten run to six-straight games dating back to a 1-0 shutout at Rice to wrap up non-conference play on Sunday, Sept. 15, as the Tigers are now unbeaten in their last eight matches with the Crimson Tide while posting a 6-0-2 mark dating back to the 2006 season. That includes a four-game winning streak in matches played at the Alabama Soccer Stadium since 2006.
In addition, the Tigers are now unbeaten in their last eight SEC regular-season matches with a 7-0-1 mark since claiming a 3-2 overtime win at Ole Miss on Oct. 19, 2012.
LSU remains the only unbeaten team in league play as it nears the midway point of the SEC season in sole possession of first place with a 4-0-1 mark and 13 points on the table. The Tigers hold a narrow lead over the 12 points for Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas A&M in a tie for second place and the nine points by Alabama, Florida and Ole Miss in a tie for fifth place overall.
“I thought our team showed great character and effort throughout the game. I also thought our physical conditioning showed itself today in another overtime game in league play,” said LSU head coach Brian Lee in the wake of his team’s fourth overtime game in five SEC matches this season. “Sundays in the SEC are always tough games. To grind out another Sunday win speaks volumes about the team we have this season.”
After the teams played to a scoreless draw in the first half, Clarke went to work early in the second half while scoring the breakthrough in the 49th minute for her team-leading seventh goal of the season.
Following a turnover in the middle of the pitch by the Alabama back line, fellow freshman Megan Lee flicked the ball into space near the top of the penalty area as Clarke broke free for two touches and a 10-yard strike inside the right post past a diving Emily Rusk in goal for the Crimson Tide. The visitors took a 1-0 lead at the 48:37 mark of the second half.
Alabama found an equalizer in the 56th minute through defender Sophie Campise as she received a pass from striker Katie Bourgeois near the top of the box and finished a 12-yard chip shot from the left side at 55:48.
The teams played to a 1-1 stalemate over the final 34 minutes of regulation as the Tigers again played into overtime for the fourth time in their five SEC matches on the season.
It wasn’t until the 102nd minute in the second overtime period that the Tigers found their opening with Clarke scoring the game-winning Golden Goal. Freshman midfielder Emma Fletcher led the attack in the middle of the park, drawing out Alabama’s two center backs and playing a through ball to Clarke running free inside the penalty area. It was déjà vu for the Tigers as Clarke finished from a nearly identical spot as her opening goal with a 10-yard strike inside the right post for her eighth goal of the season at the 101:48 mark of extra time.
The Fletcher-to-Clarke combination has certainly provided the Tigers with a lethal 1-2 punch in the attack this season as Fletcher assisted each of Clarke’s five goals on the weekend. After dishing out three assists to set a new LSU freshman record with nine assists on the year at Arkansas on Friday night, Fletcher raised her record to 10 assists on the campaign as she is now the SEC’s leading assist maker in 2013.
Clarke has certainly found her scoring touch in SEC play with a goal in three-straight matches, including one in a 3-2 win over Mississippi State on Sept. 29 and a hat trick in a 5-3 win at Arkansas on Friday night.
“In the second half, we came out with a different mentality and with 100 percent effort,” Clarke said of the team’s turnaround in the second half and overtime. “I’m starting to feel more comfortable around the goal at this point. I’m kind of getting back into a groove that I had when I came into the team this year. That’s where it’s coming from more than anything. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable now.”
The Tigers will have no time to rest on their laurels as they welcome the Missouri Tigers to Baton Rouge on Friday night for a match that is set to kick off at 7 p.m. CT at the LSU Soccer Stadium. Missouri currently sits in a tie for eighth place in the SEC standings with seven points in league play, highlighted by a 1-0 shutout of No. 8-ranked Florida at home last weekend.