ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – LSU’s defense was finally breached in the 73rd minute when All-SEC midfielder Mikaela Harvey found freshman forward Emily Bates in the left side of the area for a near post finish as the No 7-seeded Tigers fell to No. 6-seeded Texas A&M in Friday’s semifinal match at the 2015 SEC Women’s Soccer Tournament.
The Tigers (13-5-4) saw their six-game unbeaten streak snapped by the two-time defending SEC Tournament champions as the Aggies (15-5-1) extended their winning streak to five-straight in the series.
The Tigers were held scoreless in a match for just the third time this season in what was their sixth appearance all-time in the semifinal round at the SEC Women’s Soccer Tournament. With the win, Texas A&M earned a spot in Sunday’s SEC Tournament Championship Game to defend its title against the No. 1-seeded Florida Gators with kickoff set for 1 p.m. CT on ESPNU.
Following their run to the semifinals in Orange Beach this week, the Tigers will look forward to Monday’s selection show for the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Tournament that will broadcast live at 3:30 p.m. CT on NCAA.com. They are poised to make their return to NCAA Tournament play for the fifth time under head coach Brian Lee and first time in four years since the 2011 season.
“I’m so proud of our players in the way they approached this tournament and put themselves in an even better position to get back to the NCAA Tournament next week,” Lee said following the match. “It’s never easy to play two matches on a weekend in a league like the SEC, and to come here and play three matches in five days and come so close to the final says a lot about their character and resilience as a team.
“We’ve put ourselves in a great position to continue our season into the NCAA Tournament next week, so we’ll get back to Baton Rouge tomorrow and start our preparation for what is to come in our season.”
Senior midfielder Natalia Gomez-Junco continued to show her quality on set pieces as she almost put the Tigers on the board 10 minutes into the match when she whistled a 40-yard free kick off the right post before it was cleared by the Aggie defense. She has been one of the NCAA’s most lethal dead ball specialists with three free-kick goals to her credit this season.
The Tigers nearly struck against from a free kick near the center circle in the 27th minute as Gomez-Junco again put her service into the box where senior midfielder Gracie Campbell volleyed the knock back just over an outstretched hand by goalkeeper Danielle Rice and over the bar for what would have been her first career goal.
After the referee played advantage on a foul in midfield on Gomez-Junco, the Tigers again nearly unlocked the Texas A&M defense with SEC All-Freshman Team defender Alex Thomas attacking down the right side on a sprint to the end line. Thomas pulled the ball back to All-SEC striker Jorian Baucom standing eight yards from goal, but her effort was put wide of the right post in the 37th minute of play.
LSU’s back line continued to stifle the Aggie attack deep into the second half while denying Texas A&M’s potent front three of Haley Pounds, Emily Bates and Ally Watt space to create in the final third.
The Aggies fashioned their first scoring opportunity of the night in the 70th minute when Pounds was played into space in the left side of the area and fired left-footed strike across the six-yard box that was denied by a diving Catalina Rubiano in goal for the Tigers. But the Aggies took the lead just four minutes later when All-SEC midfielder Mikaela Harvey played Bates through the left side for a shot inside the near post.
Rubiano kept the Tigers in the match when they were pushing for an equalizer in the final minutes when she denied both Pounds in the 83rd minute and Watt in the 84th minute on breakaway opportunities to keep the score at 1-0. But that’s as close as the Tigers would come as they came up short in their bid for a spot in the SEC Tournament Championship Game for just the second time in team history.
Rubiano made six saves on the night as the Aggies managed just seven shots on target from their 23 attempts in the match while mostly settling on shots from distance. The Tigers found the target for two of their nine shot attempts in 90 minutes while also earning four corner kicks on the night.