ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (WATE) — The No. 10 Tennessee Lady Volunteers defeated No. 21 Ole Miss in a thrilling SEC Tournament semifinal 3-2 on Thursday night. Tennessee advances to the championship game for the first time since 2008.
Tennessee’s leading scorer Jaida Thomas opened the scoring in the 18th minute and the Lady Vols took a 1-0 lead into halftime. The second half got off to a dramatic start when Ole Miss converting a penalty shot after Tennessee was whistled for a handball inside the box less than 30 seconds after play resumed.
While the Vols created several opportunities following the Ole Miss penalty, they were unable to break through until Thomas converted her second goal of the game off of a rebound from a Mackenzie George shot in the 70th minute.
Thomas has now scored multiple goals in consecutive tournament games after her two-goal performance in the quarterfinal against Florida. The redshirt sophomore from Irving, Texas, has notched six goals in her last four games.
A 76th minute corner kick saw Ole Miss level the score for the second time in the game when Saydie Holland scored her first goal of the season.
With less than five minutes remaining in regulation, Tennessee grabbed the lead for the final time when an Ole Miss defender inadvertently turned the ball into their net. Freshman Claire Rain collected the ball after a corner kick and delivered it to the edge of the 6-yard box where pressure from Thomas helped force the costly error from the Rebel defense.
Tennessee will now face the No. 5 Arkansas Razorbacks in the championship game on Sunday. Arkansas topped the Vols 3-1 in Fayetteville on Sept. 17, one of Tennessee’s two losses this season.
The game will mark Tennessee’s first SEC championship appearance under coach Brian Pensky since he took over in 2012.
“This team just keeps going. I’ve said it all year, and I’ll say it again – they’re so darn tough and so darn determined,” Pensky told UTSports.com. “Ole Miss was good, and the elements were challenging. And giving up the game-tying goal twice was a gut-punch, but as we’ve done all season, we just got up and kept fighting. This group didn’t want the SEC portion of their season to end, and we’re elated to be staying in Orange Beach for three more days.”
Sunday’s championship game will kick off at 2 p.m. and be shown live on SEC Network.