MOBILE, Ala. – While the LSU Tigers made their return to the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Tournament in Saturday’s first-round match, it was the homestanding South Alabama Jaguars advancing to the Round of 32 as Danielle Henley, Rio Hardy and Charde Hannah each found the scoresheet in their 4-0 victory at The Cage.
The Tigers (13-6-4) saw their 2015 season come to an end in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in program history as they made their first appearance in postseason play since the 2011 campaign.
The Jaguars (18-2-2) squared the all-time series between the sides at 5-5 while snapping LSU’s winning streak at three-straight matches dating back to the 2006 season. Their victory on Saturday night set up a Round of 32 match against the defending national champion and No. 1 overall national seed Florida State Seminoles next Friday at 3:30 p.m. CT at the Seminole Soccer Complex in Tallahassee.
“I thought South Alabama played really well tonight,” said LSU head coach Brian Lee following the match. “They played great. Their first goal was a cracker and got the momentum really going their way. The second goal was a good one as well. They were on really good form tonight. I thought the crowd here was fantastic. It was loud the whole night, and they seemed to feed off that.
Henley bagged a first-half brace to put the home side in front as she opened the scoring with her ninth goal of the season in the 11th minute before doubling their advantage with her 10th goal in the 36th minute.
After controlling a clearance by the Tigers’ back line, Henley settled the ball on her right foot and fired home from 20 yards inside the left post to put the Jaguars in front 1-0 at the 10:37 mark of the first half. LSU’s fifth-year senior goalkeeper Catalina Rubiano got a fingertip on the attempt, but Henley’s opener found the side netting for the early breakthrough.
Henley scored her second goal of the night 10 minutes before the break when she ran onto Sophie Haywood’s end-line cross into the box from the left side and finished a one-time strike for a 2-0 lead at 35:26. Each of Henley’s three shot attempts found the frame as the Jaguars finished with nine shots and five on target in the opening 45 minutes.
“She (Danielle Henley) just picked up a second ball on the first one. I think they were beating us to a majority of the second balls in midfield,” Lee said. “They picked up one and she got turned inside. I had a really good angle on it, it was a cracker. They scored some really good goals tonight, and that one set the tone.
“The second one, there was a tussle in the corner and our defender went down and there wasn’t a call on it. I thought it was a good cross and just a good finish from (Henley) on that one as well. We lost track of her in the box on the second goal once we were calling for the foul. That happens sometimes. They did a great job of finishing their chances tonight and scored some great goals.”
South Alabama kept up the pressure coming out of the break as Hardy netted the team’s third goal on the night in the 51st minute and Hannah provided the final margin in the 66th minute of the second half.
With the Jaguars recycling possession from a corner kick shortly after the restart, Hardy flicked home Jemma Purfield’s near-post cross from six yards for her seventh goal on the season at the 50:55 mark. Hannah put a fourth on the board for the hosts when her sliding end-line effort from the right side flashed through the six-yard box and inside the far post for her team-leading 11th goal of the season.
The Tigers carved out some chances of their own late in the match as they worked to cut into South Alabama’s advantage in the final minutes. All-SEC striker Summer Clarke hit back with two close calls midway through the second half by firing just over the crossbar with an open look at the top of the box in the 65th minute and then forcing a diving save from goalkeeper Sarah Hay when she skipped past her defender near the penalty spot and unleashed a left-footed strike that denied at the right post.
First-Team All-SEC forward Jorian Baucom nearly put her name on the scoresheet with just 10 minutes to play when she pounced on a loose ball in the box from an LSU corner kick and skipped a low-lining shot from 10 yards in the left side of the area into the grasp of a well-positioned Hay standing at her near post to deny the Tigers their consolation.
Clarke and senior midfielder Natalia Gomez-Junco led the way in the attack with three shots apiece on the night, while Baucom and sophomore midfielder Debbie Hahn finished with two attempts on the night.
The Tigers (13-5-4) were awarded an at-large berth into this year’s NCAA Tournament by the selection committee on Monday following their run to the SEC Tournament semifinals a week ago. They were unbeaten for six-straight matches before their semifinal defeat to Texas A&M last Friday while posting a 5-1-1 mark in their last seven matches heading into postseason play.
The Tigers left the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach ranked No. 40 in the final Ratings Percentage Index released by the NCAA following Monday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show while boasting a resume with wins over No. 13 Duke and No. 39 Minnesota, a draw with No. 26 South Carolina and a record of 7-4-3 against the RPI Top 80 to earn their fifth NCAA Tournament bid in program history.