Tigers battle to draw with Lady Vols

Johnson scores second half equalizer as Tigers clinch conference tournament berth.

Going into Sunday’s game the Missouri Tigers (8-7-3, 4-3-3 SEC) needed a point to help secure their spot in the Southeastern Conference tournament.

After upsetting No. 25 Kentucky in overtime Friday and drawing 1-1 against the Tennessee Volunteers (7-7-3, 2-6-2 SEC) on Sunday, Tigers have more than enough points going into the final week of the regular season.

“It was a gutsy performance after being on the road and being in overtime (at Kentucky),” coach Bryan Blitz said. “Playing 10 players here for 40 minutes and I think our team showed a lot of heart.”

The Tigers suffered a major loss in the game’s first ten minutes as senior striker Alyssa Diggs had to be helped off the field with what appeared to be an upper leg injury. Diggs had been recovering most of the season from a major hamstring injury and had been playing her best soccer the past few games.

“She had a bit of a hamstring issue so we decided to be cautious,” Blitz said. “We will re-evaluate this week and go from there.”

Sophomore Reagan Russell, who went in for Diggs helped create a few scoring opportunities for the Tigers along with seniors Dominique Richardson and Danielle Nottingham. Both seniors had multiple chances for the Tigers but most of their shots went either high or wide.

The Volunteers had some scoring chances of their own, challenging junior goalie McKenzie Sauerwein frequently throughout the first half. Sauerwein had some major saves for the Tigers throughout the first half which helped keep the match scoreless going into halftime. Sauerwein had two big saves late in the first half, one coming with a Volunteer shot ten feet from the goal.

The Tigers opened the second half playing much more aggressive on the offensive end of the ball, making it clear that they were determined to pull off the win on Senior Day.

The Volunteers opened the scoring up in the 61st minute with a bizarre goal from Cheyenne Spade. After a shot hit off the post, Sauerwein went to save the ball, but was unable to get a firm hold on the ball. Tiger defender Sarah Thune made a great goal line save to prevent the goal but Volunteer midfielder Katie Lenz took possession of the Thune’s kick and passed it to Spade for her second goal of the year.

“I didn’t think the goal was offsides, but I did believe the referee should have made a call,” Sauerwein said. “I got caught up in that and they scored.”

The Tigers would have to play without another key player after junior midfielder Taylor Grant was ejected in the 73rd minute for fighting with a few Lady Volunteers. The Tigers would have to play the rest of the game with just 10 players on top of missing their best offensive threat in Diggs.

Candace Johnson ended up playing hero, after tying the game at one goal apiece on a penalty kick in the 79th minute, after being taken down in the box. Johnson is a regular starter on defense but played forward in high school, which is why Blitz told her to play up when the Tigers needed an equalizer.

“Great flashback to be honest, it just felt like club, sometimes we needed a goal and I went up,” Johnson said. “I felt like I knew what I was doing and that I could inspire my team to work harder to get the goal that we needed.”

After the equalizer, the Tigers played more conservative soccer, and only made one more offensive push before heading into overtime. This marked the third straight overtime game the Tigers would play, except this time they would only have ten players, giving the Volunteers a bit of an edge heading into extra time.

The first overtime went by quickly with neither team having too many chances at ending the game. Sauerwein made another big save in the final seconds of overtime to give the game another ten minutes to determine a winner.

The Tigers came out swinging in the second overtime, testing the Volunteers defense and keeper Julie Eckel. Sophomore Lauren Flynn had multiple chances to win the game but all of her shots were off-target.

With the tie, the Tigers have successfully clinched a spot in the SEC tournament and hold the eighth seed. A win at Arkansas on Thursday could move them up to the sixth spot and give them a first-round bye.

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