When you consider the season Missouri soccer has had – six overtime games and 14 of 18 matches decided by a goal or less – it was only natural for the SEC Tournament race to come down to the bitter end.
In the 96th minute of the Tigers’ regular season finale against Tennessee on Thursday, Bunny Shaw sent a rocket into the top left corner of the goal to win the game, 2-1, for Tennessee (13-2-2, 7-2-1 SEC). The orange and white-clad Volunteers rushed the field to celebrate the dramatic victory, while the visiting Tigers (6-10-2, 3-6-1) were left despondent after a potentially season-ending loss that they once led 1-0.
But over the next two hours following the final whistle, results elsewhere in the conference gave Mizzou its own cause for tempered celebration. Mississippi State lost to LSU and Alabama fell to Auburn, both by 2-1 final scores. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide were kept from seizing a place in the conference tournament, punching the Tigers’ ticket as the 10th and final team to qualify for the event in Orange Beach, Alabama.
They will play seventh-seeded LSU in the first round at 1 p.m. CST Sunday.
Entering the game against Tennessee, Missouri knew that a win would be enough to send them through to Orange Beach. Victory would be no easy task against the No. 12 Volunteers, who were playing in front of a crowd of 952 on their senior night.
But the Tigers made it clear from the outset that they were aiming for all three points, playing toe to toe with Tennessee during a back-and-forth first half.
In the 33rd minute, redshirt junior forward Bethany Coons received a pass from junior forward Sarah Luebbert and dribbled into the 18-yard box. Her low, bouncing shot found its way past Volunteer goalkeeper Shae Yanez and into the far bottom corner of the net.
Senior goalkeeper Kelsey Dossey kept the Tigers on top in the 37th minute with a close-range, diving save against Shaw, the SEC’s runaway leader in goals per game.
The second half resembled most of Mizzou’s games this season much more than the first. Tennessee enjoyed most of the scoring chances, while the Tigers worked hard on defense and racked up fouls and blocks.
The Missouri lead lasted until the 72nd minute, when sophomore forward Bella Alessi brought down a Tennessee attacker from behind in the Tigers’ box. Katie Cousins converted the ensuing penalty kick to equalize and eventually send the game to overtime.
The Volunteers dominated the extra period, registering five shots to Missouri’s zero as Shaw brought the game to an end with the winning goal.
“I think the difference today was Bunny Shaw,” Missouri coach Bryan Blitz said in a press release. “She is world class and probably the best player in the country.”
Mississippi State and Alabama each began the night two points behind Mizzou in the SEC standings. The Tigers’ failure to add to their point total in Knoxville left the door open for either team to leapfrog the Tigers with a win later in the evening.
Mississippi State controlled much of the second half but couldn’t find an equalizer against LSU. Alabama trailed for most of its rivalry encounter with Auburn before levelling the score at one in the 83rd minute, only to concede a penalty kick goal less than a minute later that finished off the race to Orange Beach.
It was the second straight year the Tigers reached the postseason by the skin of their teeth, having qualified in similar circumstances in 2017 when a win over LSU lifted Mizzou into 10th place with help from two other results on the same night. The team has yet to miss an SEC Tournament since joining the conference in 2012.
“This team, with this heart, deserves [a chance in the SEC Tournament],” Blitz said in the press release.
The Tigers face a quick turnaround as they head to Orange Beach for their Sunday clash with LSU.
Edited by Bennett Durando | email@example.com