Razorbacks advance to 9th SEC Championship match, seeking 1st title

A soccer ball and Arkansas logo are seen, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, following the RazorbacksÕ 1-0 win over Texas A&M at Razorback Field in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/220930Daily/ for today's photo gallery..(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

The 10-ranked Arkansas soccer program is headed to its seventh SEC Tournament Championship match in the last eight seasons.

The Razorbacks defeated No. 18 Mississippi State 2-0 on Thursday night in Pensacola, Fla., to advance to the final. It was the Bulldogs’ first appearance in the conference tournament semifinals. 

Arkansas (14-3-2) opened the scoring in the 13th minute on a volley from senior forward Ava Tankersley. The play started with a cross from senior forward Anna Podojil to Kiley Dulaney who headed the ball back into the middle of the 18-yard box to a wide-open Tankersley for her seventh goal.

Both teams spent the majority of the match struggling to find the finishing touch on a multitude of scoring opportunities. Mississippi State (10-5-5) caught Arkansas out of position in transition a few times in the first half. 

Sophomore forward Maggie Wadsworth proved to be the Bulldogs’ lone offensive threat and registered all three of the team’s shots on goal. She forced a diving save from freshman goalkeeper Phoebe Carver on a header in the 53rd minute and rifled a long-range effort inches over the goal in the 66th minute.

She was subbed off in the 68th minute with an injury and did not return.

Despite having the lead, Arkansas coach Colby Hale was not thrilled with his team’s performance in the first half. He did not mince words during his halftime interview on SEC Network. 

“We’ve got to fix pretty much everything,” Hale said. “I wasn’t honestly pleased with anything. I thought they outworked us.”

The second half consisted of much of the same with both teams squandering chances. However, Arkansas sealed the game with an 84th-minute goal from senior forward Morgan White.

She combined with SEC midfielder of the year Bea Franklin for a quick give-and-go at the top of the box and calmly slotted the ball into the net. Her eighth goal tied her with Franklin for the team lead and resulted in Franklin’s ninth assist.

Arkansas out-shot Mississippi State 17-7 and held an 8-1 advantage in corners.

Carver recorded her third consecutive shutout and sixth of the season. She has allowed three goals in 855 minutes between the posts.

“It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but I think that proves how badly our team wants to win,” Ellie Podojil told SEC Network. 

Arkansas will look to secure its first SEC Tournament title Sunday at 1 p.m. against Georgia, which defeated Texas A&M 3-2 in overtime of Thursday's late semifinal. 

The Razorbacks defeated Georgia 2-1 on Oct. 5 in Fayetteville. The Bulldogs (10-4-5) won the SEC East. 

Arkansas lost in the tournament championship match each season from 2016-21. Arkansas also finished runner-up in 1993 and 1996.