FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Friday night’s match between LSU and Arkansas turned into an old-fashioned SEC West shootout as freshman Summer Clarke scored a hat trick and fellow freshman Emma Fletcher dished out three assists to lead the Tigers to a 5-3 victory on a record-setting night to maintain their SEC lead at Razorback Field.
Clarke scored LSU’s first hat trick in nearly four years with goals in the 20th, 60th and 63rd minutes to double her season total entering the match, while senior Danielle Murphy found the back of the net in the 44th minute and freshman Rebecca Pongetti scored her first career goal in the 86th minute to keep the Tigers (7-3-2, 3-0-1 SEC) at the top of the league table.
Fletcher was also brilliant with her play in the midfield as she matched LSU’s single-game record with three assists to set the team’s freshman record with nine assists on the season.
With the win, the Tigers extend their unbeaten streak to five-straight matches on the season dating back to a 1-0 shutout at Rice on Sept. 15. They also run their winning streak over Arkansas (8-4, 1-3) to 10-straight in the series and six-straight in matches played at Razorback Field since the 2004 regular season.
“What a wild night of SEC soccer,” said LSU head coach Brian Lee following his team’s 5-3 win on Friday night. “We could kind of sense that a night like this was coming for quite some time from our attacking standpoint. Our front line players have been putting themselves in great positions all season long, and the goals just came tonight. I thought each was very well taken tonight.
“Our young players are really talented, and in combination with the great senior leadership we’re getting from our upperclassmen, it’s leading to some great results for our team to this point in the season.”
Clarke opened the scoring for the Tigers in the 19th minute when she buried her fourth goal of the season with a class strike from the top of the area after an attack by Fletcher and freshman Megan Lee.
Fletcher led the charge with a run through the middle of the Arkansas defense before laying the ball off to Lee in the left side of the penalty area. Lee pulled back an excellent centering pass to Clarke at the top of the box for a right-footed strike that beat Razorback goalkeeper Cameron Carter to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at the 19:52 mark of the opening frame.
The Razorbacks struck back less than four minutes later through junior striker Jeriann Okoro in the 24th minute as she split the LSU defense and finished unassisted inside the left post from the right side of the area.
But LSU’s two first-half substitutions then gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead on the stroke of halftime when seniors Nina Anderson and Danielle Murphy combined for the go-ahead goal in the 44th minute. Anderson raced into the area and got end-line for a cross to the far post, where Murphy buried a free header into the back of the net for her first goal of the season at the 43:05 mark.
The see-saw affair continued into the second half as the Razorbacks leveled the score again in the 54th minute through striker Yvonne DesJarlais, who headed home an end-line cross whipped into the box to the top of the six-yard box by Okoro racing to the end line down the right side. DesJarlais’ equalizer was her second goal of the season as the Razorbacks fought back to 2-2 at the 53:12 mark.
Clarke and Fletcher then combined to give the Tigers a 4-2 lead with a pair of goals scored just over three minutes apart midway through the second half to complete their record-setting night. Clarke found the back of the net for the second time on the hour when she was played through the Arkansas back line by Fletcher for a one-time strike from 14 yards inside the right post. Fletcher then led a counter attack in the 63rd minute to free up Clarke down the right side as she took a touch into the area and finished over the goalkeeper’s head for her hat trick.
Clarke is now the team’s leading goal scorer on the season as she doubled her total to six goals on the campaign. She has also scored in each of her last two starts with four goals in conference play.
“It feels great,” Clarke said of scoring her first career hat trick with the Tigers. “Emma (Fletcher) was setting me up in good positions all night long, and I was just able to finish a few of those chances. It really was a back-and-forth game, so we knew we were going to have to keep scoring. It feels great to start scoring again and to help our team come out with another big win.”
“It shows that our team has good character to keep fighting all the way to the end in a game like this,” Fletcher added of LSU’s victory on Friday night. “We’re playing well right now. I think we’re playing more as a team than maybe we were earlier in the season. We’re all playing for each other and working hard together to get the results.”
The Razorbacks pulled one back yet again just over three minutes later when Okoro found midfielder Evan Palmer in the middle of the area for a shot off the left post and in to pull the home side within 4-3.
But that’s as close as the Razorbacks would come as Pongetti left no doubt in the outcome when she scored her first career goal in the 86th minute on a 25-yard shot through Carter’s hands and into the back of the net to push LSU’s lead to 5-3 with just 4 minutes, 45 seconds to play in regulation.
Clarke and Fletcher gave the Tigers a devastating 1-2 punch in the attack on the night to again lead LSU to the top of the SEC table with a 3-0-1 mark and 10 points in league play. Clarke scored the first hat trick by an LSU Tiger since Malorie Rutledge on Nov. 13, 2009, against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and the first in SEC play since Carlie Banks against No. 8-ranked Georgia on Sept. 25, 2009. With her three assists, Fletcher pushed her total to nine assists on the season to break Addie Eggleston’s freshman record of eight set back in 2010.
The Tigers are now unbeaten in four matches to open SEC play for just the third time in program history, after posting team-best 4-0 starts in league play in both 2009 and 2011.
The Tigers will wrap up another SEC road weekend on Sunday afternoon with a trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in a match for control of first place in the SEC standings that is slated to open at 1 p.m. CT at the Alabama Soccer Complex. They return to home next weekend for a match against the Missouri Tigers that is scheduled for Oct. 11, at 7 p.m. at the LSU Soccer Stadium.