ORANGE BEACH, Ala.- For the second-straight season, the Razorback soccer team will be playing for an SEC Tournament title. After battling with four-seed Vanderbilt to a 1-1 tie after 110 minutes of play, it was Arkansas that advanced on penalty kicks, 4-2, reaching its fourth tournament final in school history.
Arkansas (11-9-2) will go for its first SEC Tournament championship on Sunday when it faces two-seed Texas A&M. The Razorbacks lost to the Aggies earlier in the year, 2-1, in College Station.
Just one year removed from reaching the final game for the first time since 1996, Arkansas was able to win three matches over the course of five days to become the lowest-seeded team to ever advance to the tournament final.
Since the field expanded in 2012, there has never been a team that reached the final as one of the bottom four seeds.
“I thought it was mentality that separated us tonight,” Arkansas head coach Colby Hale said. “We’ve played an extra game since we’ve been down here, but to go Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and still be the better team in overtime was huge. We’ve had so many big moments with this program, this may be one of my proudest moments. The mentality this team has had is unbelievable. I could not be more proud.”
Sophomore Kayla McKeon scored her fourth goal of the year in the 22nd minute to put Arkansas ahead in the first half. But, Vanderbilt came back to equalize the match just before halftime in the 41st minute with a goal from Paola Ellis.
For McKeon, it’s her first goal since scoring twice against Mississippi Valley State on Sept. 3, but her third-straight match with at least one point as she recorded an assist in both of Arkansas’ wins earlier in the tournament.
Neither team was able to put a winner home in the second half or the two overtime periods, which forced penalty kicks, but Arkansas owned the possession in extra time, outshooting Vanderbilt, 5-2.
Arkansas made an interesting move going into penalties, changing goalkeepers by bringing in redshirt freshman Taylor Beitz to face the Commodores. The Ontario native came up big on the first shot, making the save to her left. Senior Jessi Hartzler scored on the back half of the first round of penalties to give Arkansas the early advantage.
Vanderbilt did miss the second penalty off the left post, while Arkansas went a perfect 3-for-3 the rest of the way, getting good kicks from Taylor Malham, Nayeli Perez, and Parker Goins.
“I’m really excited,” Hartzler said. “I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m just really proud of this team. We just have a lot of heart. We all trust each other. We may not be the most talented team, individually, but if we come together as a team and fight, we can accomplish anything.”
The Razorback soccer team is in select company after Thursday’s win becoming just the fourth program at Arkansas to reach the conference tournament final in consecutive seasons. Men’s basketball was the last to do it in the 2007 and 2008 seasons, as well as the 1999 and 2000 seasons, winning it all in 2000. Volleyball (1995-99) and baseball (1998-99) were the only other two programs to achieve the feat.
2017 SEC Tournament Semifinal Notes
-Arkansas reached its fourth tournament final in program history (1993, 1996, 2016, 2017).
-The Razorbacks will be looking to win their first SEC Tournament championship in school history when it faces two-seed Texas A&M on Sunday at 2 p.m.
-As the eight seed in this year’s tournament, Arkansas is the lowest-seeded team to ever reach the SEC Tournament final.
-Since the tournament field expanded in 2012, there has never been a team reach the tournament final from the bottom four seeds before Arkansas achieved that this year.
-Sophomore Kayla McKeon scored her fourth goal of the year in the 22nd minute. It’s her third-straight match with at least one point.
-The Razorbacks were a perfect 4-for-4 in penalty kicks Thursday, getting scores from Jessi Hartzler, Taylor Malham, Nayeli Perez, and Parker Goins.
-Arkansas advanced in the SEC Tournament on penalty kicks for the first time since 1996.
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