BATON ROUGE - Thursday night proved to be déjà vu for members of the LSU Soccer team as they once again overcame a 2-0 deficit in the first half to score three unanswered goals while claiming a thrilling 3-2 victory over the streaking Arkansas Razorbacks on Senior Night at the LSU Soccer Stadium.
The Tigers (9-7-4, 5-6-2 SEC) sprint to the finish line as winners of three-straight matches to end the regular season as they also snap a three-game winning streak by the Razorbacks (9-9-1, 6-6-1) entering Thursday's regular-season finale.
The win also hands LSU its ninth-straight victory in the series dating back to the 2004 season.
It was a familiar spot for the Tigers as they also faced a 2-0 deficit at Ole Miss on Friday of last week before pulling off an improbable 3-2 come-from-behind overtime win in Oxford.
After sophomore Jodi Calloway pulled one back on a corner kick by freshman Jade Kovacevic with just over two minutes remaining in the first half, Kovacevic drew the Tigers level on a free-kick strike in the 70th minute and freshman Fernanda Pina scored the game-winner in the 86th minute to deliver a victory for the home side.
"That's two times in a week to come back from 2-0 down to win a game," said LSU head coach Brian Lee. "We have great character. Sometimes we have an issue transferring that character to the field. It was a great fight back. We really needed that win. That's a big win for our season."
The Tigers quickly found themselves facing a two-goal deficit late in the first half when the Razorbacks found the back of the net twice in a span of 39 seconds in the 31st and 32nd minutes of play.
As LSU's junior goalkeeper Megan Kinneman batted a floated free kick by Razorback defender Allie Tripp off the crossbar, freshman striker Ashleigh Ellenwood was in position to clean up the rebound for her team-leading fifth goal of the season at the 30:28 mark of the first half. The Razorbacks struck again inside of a minute following a disastrous turnover by LSU's back line as sophomore striker Jeriann Okoro raced into the area and finished the breakaway to give Arkansas a 2-0 lead at the 31:07 mark.
But the Tigers would roar back to cut the deficit in half before the break when Calloway netted her first career goal in the 43rd minute when she found herself on the end of a curling corner kick service by Kovacevic from the left corner flag for the header at the top of the six-yard box to cut the Arkansas lead to 2-1.
Kovacevic finished the regular season tied as the SEC's leading assist maker in league play as each of her team-leading six assists came against SEC competition.
"When you're down 2-0, you really have to work," Lee said. "I thought Jodi's goal changed the whole game. Coming from 2-1 down, that's a much different task with plenty of time. We didn't feel like we didn't have enough time to come back. We continued to play well in the second half."
After junior Nina Anderson drew a foul 25 yards out in the 70th minute, Kovacevic stepped up and rifled a free kick inside the top-right corner of the net past a helpless Kelly Roliard in goal for Arkansas for the equalizer to level the score at 2-2 with her third goal of the season.
LSU's comeback was complete with just over four minutes from time as Pina scored her fourth goal of the season to tie sophomore Alex Arlitt for the team lead.
Senior striker Carlie Banks led the charge with an attack down the left flank as she dribbled into the area and centered a pass to junior forward Danielle Murphy, who then dummied a ball to Pina behind a Razorback defender near the top of the six-yard box. Pina's strike found the back of the net to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead with just 4:16 to play.
The LSU defense stood strong down the stretch as the Tigers claimed their third-straight victory to end the regular season.
"Scoring three goals three games in a row is a lot for us. We'll see if we can keep it going in Orange Beach," Lee said. "We know the next time we lose, our season could well be over. We are certainly on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. We have to keep winning if we want to play in that tournament.
"You're allowed to get better over the course of the year. I think our team has really improved and is peaking at the right time."
With their victory over the Razorbacks and a 3-2 overtime win by Mississippi State over Ole Miss on Thursday night, the Tigers earn the No. 8 seed in the 2012 SEC Women's Soccer Tournament and will go up against the Rebels in Monday's opening round at 6:30 p.m. CT at the Orange Beach Sportsplex.
The SEC Tournament will run through Sunday, Nov. 4, as the championship match is set for a live television broadcast on ESPNU. Live streaming video of the two semifinals on Friday, Nov. 2, will be shown to certain markets on ESPN3.com.
LSU vs. Arkansas
October 25, 2012
Head Coach Brian Lee
On tonight's match ...
"That's two times in a week to come back from 2-0 down to win a game. We have great character. Sometimes we have an issue transferring that character to the field. It was a great fight back. We got contributions from a lot of different kids. We really needed that win. That's a big win for our season."
On the early 2-0 deficit ...
"When you're down 2-0, you really have to work. I thought Jodi (Calloway's) goal changed the whole game. Coming from 2-1 down, that's a much different task with plenty of time. We didn't feel like we didn't have enough time to come back. We came out in the second half, and it took us a while to get the first one. We are really dangerous on set pieces. Jade (Kovacevic's) service is so good. She blasted in one to make it 2-2."
On Fernanda Piña's game-winning goal ...
"Fernanda has been in that spot four or five times this year. She is a really clutch kid. We don't really measure what they do with the ball if they get on it late. It is the ability and the willingness to put yourself there. She put herself there again, and finished it well. I thought that was big time."
On the Tigers' past three comeback wins ...
"Scoring three goals three games in a row is a lot for us. We'll see if we can keep it going in Orange Beach. We know the next time we lose, our season could well be over. We are certainly on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. We have to keep winning if we want to play in that tournament. You're allowed to get better over the course of the year. I think our team has really improved and is peaking at the right time."
Senior Forward Carlie Banks
On tonight's game ...
"I wasn't going to stop. I wasn't going to give up. We did it last weekend against Ole Miss. I knew our team had the fight enough to do it again."
On the 2-0 deficit ...
"We were playing pretty well that first half. I knew we could come right back from that. It wasn't a question in our minds."
On her last regular-season game ...
"I almost started crying when the whistle blew. It is awesome. It is a great feeling."
On the three-game winning streak ...
"We are peaking right now. This is a perfect time to. The SEC Tournament is right around the corner. This is when we need to shine. This is when it matters."
Freshman Midfielder/Defender Jade Kovacevic
On tonight's match ...
"On the first goal, I took the corner and put it far post. Brian (Lee) always tells me to put a little bit of curve on it and to look for far post. Jodi (Calloway) has a great vertical. She got on top of the ball and put it right under the crossbar. Then we got a foul right outside of the box. I've been working on free kicks for forever. It just felt great to hammer it into the back of the net.
"I try to do whatever I can for my team, especially coming in as a freshman. I try to do as much as I can to be a team player. I try to do all I can in the game."
On the three-game winning streak ...
"We had a really slow start to the season. I think we are finally coming together. It has taken a lot of overtime games and some losses. We finally believe in each other. We are on this winning streak. We are doing well right now at the most important time of the season."
On Brian Lee's message at halftime...
"He wasn't mad. He was just trying to motivate us to keep playing. He just influenced the inside backs to get more forward so we could have more opportunities to score."