Freshman Gabriela Maldonado’s first career goal in the 47th minute sparked a second-half turnaround for the Tigers as senior Fernanda Pina and sophomores Debbie Hahn and Jorian Baucom also found the scoresheet in LSU’s 4-1 win over Western Kentucky in Friday’s “Battle on the Bayou” nightcap at the LSU Soccer Stadium.
Trailing 1-0 at the break after Iris Dunn scored an early breakthrough for the visitors in the eighth minute of play, Maldonado drew the Tigers level within two minutes of the restart when she controlled a corner kick by Natalia Gomez-Junco on the edge of the six-yard box in the right side of the area and slotted the ball home inside the near post for her first collegiate goal.
It seemed fitting that the former Colombian Under-17 international fired the Tigers back into the match after she was handed her first career start when head coach Brian Lee named his team prior to kickoff.
Maldonado’s leveler sparked an offensive onslaught from the home side as the Tigers (2-0-1) seized the initiative from the start of the second half. Hahn’s first career goal in the 58th minute proved to be the winner on the night when she lashed home a curling effort inside the far post from the left side of the area past a helpless Western Kentucky goalkeeper Allison Leone diving to her left.
Hahn led the initial attack down the left flank while serving the ball into the area and turning up the pressure on the Lady Toppers (1-2) backpedaling in defense. She was set up by Baucom for the winning strike putting the Tigers into the lead for good at 2-1 at the 57:45 mark of the second half. Gomez-Junco was also credited with an assist for Hahn’s winner as she tied LSU’s single-game record with three assists on the night.
The Florida State transfer has enjoyed a strong start to her sophomore season in Baton Rouge while earning a start in each of the team’s first three matches while helping the Tigers to an unbeaten start on the year.
“I just looked up and nailed it, back right corner. The winning goal for my first goal, I’ll take that any day,” Hahn said of her game-winner. “We had a talk in the locker room, even before the coaches came in, it was just a players talk. We knew we needed to step it up. We came out with a totally different mentality as a team to start the second half, got into a rhythm and the goals just started to come from there.”
While Maldonado and Hahn put the Tigers on top by scoring their first career goals early in the second half, two veterans put the decision beyond Western Kentucky’s reach late in the contest when Baucom scored her team-leading second goal of the season in the 63rd minute and Pina opened her account with her first goal of the campaign in the 74th minute of the second half.
Senior midfielder Heather Magee played the ball into Baucom’s feet near the penalty spot when she turned quickly and whistled a left-footed strike inside the right post to give the Tigers a 3-1 cushion. Pina sealed the points with LSU’s fourth goal of the second half as she pounced on a mishandled back pass to the goalkeeper and chipped into an empty net.
Lee praised his team’s response in the second half after trailing at the break while being limited by a stifling Western Kentucky defense to just three shot attempts in the opening 45 minutes of the match.
“It starts with making just a few little defensive adjustments, and that really helped us gain possession. We made some adjustments to our shape,” Lee said in his post-match press conference. “Once we won the ball I thought our energy going forward was really really good. Our fluidity was good. I thought the kids on the field in the second half played very well tonight.”
The Tigers tightened up on both ends of the field while outshooting the Lady Toppers by a 12-1 margin in the second half and finishing the match with a 6-4 advantage in shots on goal and corner kicks in 90 minutes.
Gomez-Junco became the first Tiger to record three assists in a match since Emma Fletcher at Arkansas on Oct. 4, 2013, and tied LSU’s single-game record as the 10th player to do so in team history. Gomez-Junco nearly leveled the score herself in the 11th minute of the first half after turning over a Lady Topper in midfield, driving towards goal and whistling a 30-yard rocket off the crossbar from distance.
The Tigers look to run their unbeaten streak to four-straight games to start the 2015 season on Sunday afternoon when they host the Minnesota Golden Gophers in their “Battle on the Bayou” finale with kickoff slated for 1 p.m. CT at the LSU Soccer Stadium. The Golden Gophers are also coming off a win on Friday night when they edged Stephen F. Austin by a 1-0 margin in the opening match of the tournament.
Sunday’s tournament finale also features an 11 a.m. CT kickoff between Stephen F. Austin and Western Kentucky as fans are invited to end their weekend with another exciting day of college soccer in Baton Rouge.
“We’re pretty familiar with Minnesota. We saw them a couple of years ago up there,” Lee said of Sunday’s opponent. “They’re a very well-coached, talented team that is probably going to be in the NCAA Tournament again this year. They’ll be a different challenge than Western Kentucky. We’ve got to come ready to work hard and follow the game plan and see if we can’t get a win.”