Florida goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese looked Auburn forward Rocio Sanders in the eye like a boxer staring down her opponent at the weigh in. Sanders had to convert this shot to keep Auburn’s hopes in the SEC Tournament alive.
Arkansas goalkeeper Taylor Beitz fell to the ground in her own box while the rest of the Raz…
She took a short run to the ball and hammered it with her right foot. Marckese, however, went the right direction and emphatically blocked the ball while falling to her left.
Sunday’s 1-1 (2-1) victory in Orange Beach, Alabama, gets Florida (7-9-3, 4-5-1 SEC) a date with No. 1-seed Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
For 56 minutes on Sunday, it looked like UF would cruise to the next round. The Gators were in control throughout the first half and took a 1-0 lead to the second. The offense generated chances at a solid pace, and the defense looked comfortable defending against the Auburn (12-6-1, 4-5-1 SEC) attack. Then, in the 57th minute, the entire complexion of the game changed.
Senior midfielder Sarah Troccoli, UF’s captain, went up for a header with Auburn midfielder Bri Folds. The two players came down together. While getting up, Troccoli gave Folds a shove, pushing her back down. The infraction was severe enough in the referee’s opinion to warrant an immediate red card, putting Florida one player down for the rest of the match.
Without their captain, the momentum shifted away from the Gators. In the 74th minute, Taylor Troutman’s header from 16 yards out off a corner leveled the score at 1 apiece. From there, Florida’s defense was stout and withstood the pressure for the remainder of regulation and in both 10-minute overtime periods. Florida put up a valiant defensive effort and held the Tigers to just the one goal in 53 minutes with just 10 players on the field.
Florida’s opening goal came courtesy of a penalty kick in the 20th minute. Auburn defender Sarah Houchin made an ill-advised tackle in her own box, which brought UF forward Madison Alexander to ground. The Gators were awarded the penalty, but it wasn’t without controversy. Auburn coach Karen Hoppa was awarded a yellow card for arguing that Houchin the call.
Alexander took the penalty, and her finish was clinical. She had the goalkeeper dive the wrong way and calmly placed the ball into the corner of the net.
The MVP of the match, though, was probably Marckese. In addition to making a big save early in the match, Marckese saved three shots in the penalty shootout. She also took and made Florida’s first penalty kick of the round.
“I’m not done playing with this team,” Marckese said in an SEC Network interview after the game. “These girls, they mean everything to me.”
Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano or contact him at [email protected].