Kaylan Marckese finally ran out of magic.
The Florida Gators’ sideline stormed onto the field when time ran out, cheering and shouting…
The UF goalkeeper had carried Florida throughout their surprising SEC Tournament run. In the opening game, she held Auburn to one goal when Florida was down a player, and scored a goal and made three saves in the penalty shootout. She didn’t let No. 1 seed Vanderbilt find the back of the net once in the next round. In the semifinals on Friday, she held Arkansas scoreless for 90 minutes.
This time, though, Florida was also held scoreless in regulation. In the first minute of the sudden-death overtime, Arkansas midfielder Kayla McKeon headed one that even Marckese couldn’t save to send the Gators home and end their season.
With the 1-0 win, Arkansas (13-4-3, 6-3-1 SEC) advances to the SEC Tournament final. Florida (7-10-4, 4-4-2 SEC), which needed to win the SEC tournament to continue its season, will miss out on the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
“This team never folded and never gave up,” coach Becky Burleigh said in a postgame interview posted to the team’s Twitter account. “That’s something I think they will leave a legacy for this program on for the rest of the time the program is in existence.”
It was a much different story than the last time these two teams met just eight days ago in Gainesville. UF won that game, uncharacteristically scoring three goals in a shutout performance that clinched the team’s berth in the SEC Tournament. Friday’s semifinal matchup in Orange Beach, Alabama, was more of a microcosm for this Gators season.
Going into the game, UF had been shutout a program-record 11 times this year. The offense’s lack of productivity had become the story of the season, and it put Florida in a bad position heading into Friday’s game – because the Gators had barely squeaked into the SEC Tournament as the No. 8 seed, they did not have the first-round bye that Arkansas had.
Despite getting an extra day’s rest due to the game’s postponement from Thursday, the Gators were still playing their third game in five days. Fatigue became more of an issue as the game wore on. Arkansas led the shot count 9-2 in the second half. Florida was playing on the back foot for most of the afternoon, with Arkansas leading the shot count 11-4 and leading the corner count 16-3.
“They put a lot of pressure on us in the second half. Didn’t really allow us to play our game,” Burleigh said. “Finally, the pressure gave in.”
In the 91st minute, the Razorbacks broke through. In an effort to avoid conceding a corner, UF midfielder Carina Baltrip-Reyes opted to clear the ball back into the field of play from her own byline. Her clearance, however, landed at the feet of Arkansas defender Marissa Kinsey. Kinsey’s cross was perfect, and McKeon’s headed finish was equally as clinical.
Marckese kept her team in the game, and made perhaps her best save of the tournament just a few minutes before the end of regulation. Reece Christopherson’s long-range shot looked destined for the back of the net, but Marckese managed to flick it over the bar using the full extension of her right arm.
The few chances Florida did have in the match mostly came courtesy of forward Deanne Rose. Early in the match, Rose nearly chased down a clever pass from Tess Sapone that, had Rose got to it, would have surely given UF the lead. Arkansas keeper Taylor Beitz was able to get to the ball just before Rose closed in on it, however. In the 87th minute, Rose raced down the pitch, splitting two defenders and creating a clean look on goal. Her shot, though, was right at Beitz.
“We’ll have a lot of work in the offseason to do to just take all the lessons from this,” Burleigh said. “We can definitely take some things from this where we can improve and sort of reset some things in our program.”
Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano or contact him at [email protected].