Florida’s Susi Espinoza gave her team a fighting chance against Missouri in the second round of the SEC Tournament on Sunday.
In a must-win game, the redshirt senior keeper recorded a season-high seven saves, but the Gators offense wasn’t up to par. Thirteenth-seeded UF was eliminated from the conference tournament after falling 2-1 to the fifth-seeded Tigers at the Orange Beach Sportsplex in Alabama.
The Gators played into the wind in the first half, which affected their possession in the game’s early stages. Instead of playing balls over the top, Florida resorted to short passes on the ground to penetrate Missouri’s 3-4-3 shape.
Mizzou countered with a high press that flustered UF coming out of the back. In the 17th minute, the Tigers took advantage.
With none of her teammates checking in for a pass, Florida defender Taylor Baksay tried forcing the ball through the middle of the park. Missouri’s Bella Alessi was there to steal possession, though, and she charged right at the Gators until finding midfielder Macy Trujillo at the edge of the box.
Trujillo’s awkward first touch almost let her down, but the senior remained composed in front of UF’s net to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Florida answered back just four minutes later when forward Alivia Gonzalez threaded the ball into Cassidy Lindley, who made a surging run past Mizzou’s back line.
Lindley squandered a one-on-one opportunity in Florida’s 6-5 overtime victory against Kentucky but didn’t let a similar chance go to waste this time around. The junior forward dribbled around Tigers keeper Isabella Alessio and tapped the ball home for the equalizer.
Although the game was tied at 1-1 going into the break, Missouri held the upper hand offensively through the opening 45 minutes.
The Tigers registered 13 shots in the first half, with five of those hitting the target. Florida, meanwhile, shot just four times, and only two of those were on frame.
It was more of the same in the second half, as Missouri peppered Espinoza’s net, searching for the game-winning goal.
Mizzou finally broke through in the 72nd minute when Alessi stuck out her foot to steer the ball under Espinoza’s flailing limbs.
The Gators pushed players forward in hopes of forcing overtime for the second-straight game. However, Florida’s 26th season came to an anticlimactic end with Sunday night’s defeat to the Tigers.
Contact Bryan Matamoros at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @bryan_2712.
Goalkeeper Susi Espinoza dives for a save in the opening game of the SEC Tournament on Friday. After winning 6-5 in overtime on Nov. 13, the Gators tournament hopes were dashed Sunday night when they lost to Missouri.