Shortly before Missouri soccer took on Alabama at Walton Stadium Thursday, the Tigers’ already tough road to the postseason grew even more daunting.
The team announced in the buildup to kickoff that starting goalkeeper Peyton Bauman and backup McKenna Sheehan would miss the final three games of the regular season with illnesses unrelated to soccer. The Tigers were forced to recruit Megan Moll, a freshman on MU’s softball team who played the position in high school, to provide emergency relief in net. Moll now sits behind third-string walk-on Gillian Schulte, who took the gloves Thursday for her second straight start.
Schulte and the Tigers bounced back from an early Alabama goal and hung with the Crimson Tide for much of the night, but fell short in a 2-1 loss that pushed Missouri (7-8-1, 1-6-1) to the brink of elimination. MU has never missed the conference tournament since joining the SEC in 2012.
Bauman started the team’s first 11 games of the season, helping the team to a 5-4-1 mark before succumbing to illness at the end of September. Sheehan, a freshman, filled in for three matches before Schulte was thrust into action for last week’s 2-1 loss at Kentucky, who earned its first SEC win against the Tigers.
After conceding two goals to the lowly Wildcats, Schulte’s second outing got off to a rough start of its own. Alabama’s Carlee Giammona received a cross and finished into the top corner in the second minute, leaving Schulte frozen on her line. The Crimson Tide (9-4-3, 4-2-2) looked potentially set to roll to a lopsided win over their shorthanded hosts.
Instead, Missouri came back to control the rest of the first half, capitalizing on a Julissa Cisneros penalty kick in the seventh minute and nearly taking the lead on multiple occasions. The Tigers went into halftime with advantages in shots and shots on target.
In the 64th minute, a foul on Schulte resulted in Riley Mattingly’s goal from the spot that gave Alabama a 2-1 lead. Schulte charged off her line to challenge Gigi Schorr, who lifted a shot over the crossbar just before being upended by Schulte.
“She did everything she should’ve done,” coach Bryan Blitz said of Schulte. “She has every right to come for the ball as well as the other kid.”
Blitz would receive a yellow card in the aftermath of the goal for his vocal complaints about the referee’s decision. The Tigers never quite regained the attacking form they had shown in the first half, and the second half wound down to seal MU’s defeat and extend Alabama’s unbeaten run to six games.
“We were in it to win it,” Blitz said. “We were creating a lot of chances. Obviously the PK changed the momentum a little bit.”
The loss keeps Missouri on four points in the SEC standings. To book their place in Orange Beach, Alabama, for the conference tournament, the Tigers must surpass at least two of Mississippi State (eight points), Auburn (nine), Ole Miss (nine) and Tennessee (10), as well as hope Kentucky (four) slips up along the way. Kentucky owns a tiebreaker over MU because of last week’s head-to-head result.
Missouri has no choice but to defeat No. 22 Texas A&M at 4 p.m. Sunday in College Station, Texas, and Mississippi State at home on Halloween. Even with a pair of Tiger victories, plenty of other results will need to go MU’s way to extend Missouri’s season.
“It’s really not in our hands at this point,” Blitz said. “All we can do is come back on Sunday and try to find a winning performance.”