Coming into Labor Day weekend, LSU soccer was in a skid. The Tigers were 1-0-3 overall with twice as many goals allowed as scored (six against the Tigers to three for). The defense was serviceable at best and the attack was made up solely of the duo of Jorian Baucom and Summer Clarke, while the midfield was demonstrating no real interest in supporting an attack while failing to gel as a unit.
And they went to Indiana where they had a coming out party.
On Thursday against Indiana LSU opened up strong, cranking up the pressure from the jump. It looked as if Baucom would score before the first quarter of the match was over after a one-two down past the backline gave Baucom an open look at goal from around 10 yards out. Baucom pulled the shot wide into the netting, but she would be back 10 minutes later to write her name on the scoresheet when she took Gabriela Maldonaldo's corner and headed it into the far bottom right corner.
Up a goal LSU decided to keep their foot on the pedal, with Nicole Howard nearly opening her collegiate scoring account twice between Baucom's goal and halftime with a rising shot from the top of the box that found the crossbar and a swerving shot that nearly snuck past Hoosier keeper Sarah L'Hommedieu. Instead of the junior defender, it was freshman midfielder Caitlin Cantrill who netted her first career goal in the 43rd minute when she cleaned up a scrum that broke out after Megan Cutura's corner took a rebound.
LSU closed out the game and escaped the most dangerous lead in soccer on the other side of the break when Delaney Sheehan juked a defender in the box who got more Sheehan than she did ball. Baucom cooly converted the penalty for the second straight match to seal the victory.
Summer Clarke would get her first goal of the season on Sunday against Butler, when in the 27th minute she took a cross from Nicole Howard and lifted it effortlessly into the back of the net. Her first goal of the season would be the first goal of the game, but the advantage to the Tigers would be short lived as Butler scored on a header stemming from a corner kicks just two minutes later. Butler had the edge over the Tigers both in shots (15 to 11) and corners (seven to five) but that goal would be their only converted chance of the day. Nicole Howard nearly broke the deadlock herself after halftime when she juked her defender far enough away from her to fire off a shot, which was saved.
The game would be even matched for the most part after that. In the 87th minute, Debbie Hahn secured a free kick that was cleared away by the Bulldog back line. Alex Thomas picked up the cleared ball and played into the right side of the face of goal and kept on to the touchline, where she crossed to the near side of the goal. Jorian Baucom was there to just get enough on the falling cross to direct it into the net for the game-winner, her fourth goal of the year.
LSU played more serviceable defense this weekend, claiming their second clean sheet of the young season. But then again, playing with a four goal advantage over your opponents affords looser play. The real improvements this weekend were at the central third of the field, where LSU's band of young mids showed interest to participate in attacks and a savvy understanding to get back when an attack folds to assist in defending. Earlier this season I think they took a more conservative approach to play, abandoning attacks earlier and earlier in fear of a counter to the point where they didn't participate at all. And the passing between the midfielders was much crisper this past weekend compared the previous two.
This weekend was a huge step up from the past one, with a convincing win over a Big Ten team and an opportunistic game against the reigning Big East champions.
LSU's road trip continues next weekend when they travel to Bowling Green Friday night to play Western Kentucky at 7:00 before reporting to College Station Sunday to open SEC play against the Aggies. The A&M game will be broadcast on the SEC Network. Like, the big SEC Network.