Missouri opens SEC play with 1-0 win over Kentucky

A penalty kick in the 51st minute made the difference as the Tigers won their second straight game.
The Tigers celebrate after junior forward Sarah Luebbert scored the first goal of the match against Kentucky University on Sept. 13, 2018. The Tigers topped the Wildcats 1-0

Junior forward Sarah Luebbert led the Missouri Tigers in goals in 2017 and figured to play a similar scoring role this year. Eight games into the season, however, she has yet to tally her first goal. In the most recent contest, she had a new number on the back of her jersey after halftime.

So naturally, she found a new way to stir up a goal for her offensive teammates.

This trend was never more apparent than on Thursday night at Walton Stadium, when Luebbert drew a foul in the box to set up a penalty kick that proved to be the only goal in Missouri’s 1-0 win over Kentucky (4-5, 0-1 SEC).

Luebbert had to be substituted during the mostly uneventful first half due to a bleeding cut on her forehead, and returned after the break wearing a No. 29 jersey rather than her usual 17, which had been stained by the blood. A tactical change also resulted in her moving from a wide position to the middle of the field, which factored into her play in the buildup to the goal.

In the 51st minute of the scoreless game, Luebbert picked up the ball in midfield circle and dribbled all the way into the Kentucky box, where a challenge from Wildcat defender Taya Edwards took her down. A foul was called, and sophomore midfielder Cassidy Nurnberger converted the ensuing penalty kick.

“I got to turn and just run at the defense, which I like to do, and I just took my space,” Luebbert said.

The penalty kick opportunity, which turned into the first goal of Nurnberger’s career, came as a bit of a surprise for her.

“We practice taking [penalty kicks] in training, and I actually missed in training two days ago,” Nurnberger said. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to take it, and then [coach Bryan Blitz] just looked at me and said if I wanted it, and I just took it.”

The game opened up considerably after the goal, with Missouri (3-4-1, 1-0) nearly adding a second in quick succession when Luebbert found freshman forward Julissa Cisneros open in the box. Cisneros slotted the ball past Kentucky goalkeeper Hannah Leonard but was called offside, nullifying the play.

The Tigers continued to control the game until the final ten minutes, when the previously quiet Wildcat offense threatened several times.

In the 80th minute, senior goalkeeper Kelsey Dossey leaped above a Kentucky attacker to capture a loose ball in the box. On the ensuing Tiger attack, Luebbert nearly put the game away by drilling a one-time shot just over the crossbar.

In the 82nd minute, Kentucky’s Tanya Samarzich hit a curling shot off the post. Missouri successfully defended a corner kick in the 88th, and another Wildcat shot sailed over the bar in the 90th.

Blitz was impressed with the team’s defensive stand, especially without regular starter Anna Frick, who missed the game with a minor knee injury.

“Our team defense was good,” Blitz said. “They had some scary fast players. I think Dossey was solid ... [the defense has] been solid all year.”

The win preserved Missouri’s perfect 7-0 record in SEC openers since joining the conference in 2012. After a rough nonconference schedule which saw the Tigers go more than four complete games without scoring, Luebbert believes the team is ready for the SEC docket.

“Coach Blitz makes our non conference games extremely hard so we’re ready to play in conference,” she said. “You learn a lot more from a loss than you do a win.”

The Tigers will wrap up non conference play on Sunday at Walton Stadium when they face Portland State at noon.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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