Auburn soccer falls to No. 5 Arkansas in SEC semifinal

·2 min read

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – Making its first SEC Tournament semifinal in six seasons, Auburn fell to No. 5 Arkansas, 5-1, Thursday at the Orange Beach Sportsplex.

Freshman midfielder Sydnie Thibodaux scored her first career goal, but top-seeded Arkansas ultimately pulled away to advance to Sunday’s championship game.

Olivia Candelino assisted to Thibodaux, who drove and fired a left-footed laser to get the Tigers on the scoreboard early in the second half, one minute after Arkansas had taken 2-0 lead on Kayla McKeon’s second goal of the game.

Thibodaux started the second half in place of Anna Haddock, and freshman defender LJ Knox played much of the game in place of senior center back M.E Craven.

“Really proud of them,” Auburn coach Karen Hoppa said. “We had some freshmen have to step up into some important roles. They gave everything they had. ‘Thibs’ got the goal, a great goal that gave us a chance.”

The fifth-seeded Tigers threatened in the opening five minutes when Haddock’s shot from distance nearly broke the goal line, but a video review upheld the ruling.

Goalkeeper Maddie Prohaska and the Auburn defense held the attacking Razorbacks at bay for most of the first half, with the sophomore keeper making two terrific saves sandwiched between a team save 20 minutes into the contest.

Arkansas broke the deadlock in the 40th minute on a touch pass to McKeon, who delivered a strike into the upper 90 that Prohaska deflected but couldn’t keep from reaching the back of the net.

McKeon’s second goal came in the opening minute of the second half, leading to the quick answer from Thibodaux.

The Razorbacks regained a two-goal lead in the 75th minute on goal from Taylor Malham, and Arkansas (16-3-0) added two goals in the final 10 minutes, one on a deflection by Bea Franklin off a free kick in the 80th minute, and a close-range goal from Ava Benedetti in the 83rd.

“Unfortunately, when we pushed all our numbers forwards, we gave up a couple counterattacks,” Hoppa said. “Arkansas is a top five team. That’s what they’ll do.

“Proud of my team. I think we learned a lot. Now we’re going to rest up and get excited for NCAAs.”

Auburn returns to the Plains to await Monday’s NCAA Tournament pairings. The Tigers advanced to the semifinals by beating South Carolina 2-1 on Tuesday, Auburn’s first victory over the Gamecocks since 2012.

“We wouldn’t play until a week from Friday so we’ve got some time. We’ll recover from this. We’ve got a great character group, we’ve got great leadership. We felt like we could do better and we know we’ll have an opportunity to do better in NCAAs.”