By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer
For the last time, Baylor soccer took on rival No. 16 Texas in regular season conference play. The Longhorns took home the bragging rights, scoring four second-half goals and shutting out the Bears 4-0 on Thursday night at Betty Lou Mays Field.
“I did think we had a good first half,” head coach Michelle Lenard said. “We were competitive. We created some chances. We came out with some good energy. And then [in the] second half, we had a good game plan. I felt [good] going into the second half. I didn’t think that we applied the game plan very well, so I’m pretty disappointed in that and frustrated with the players.”
The Bears (4-3-1, 0-1 Big 12) played well in the first 45 minutes, as each team was scoreless heading into the halftime break. Sophomore goalkeeper Ashlee Zirkel displayed athleticism and confidence early by recording six first-half saves, highlighted by back-to-back diving saves in the 31st minute to keep the Longhorns (7-1-1, 1-0 Big 12) off the board.
“Ashlee [Zirkel] had a fantastic first half, and then I don’t know what happened on the last two goals,” Lenard said. “Overall, I think it was just a mental collapse and another example of maybe some inexperience and some youth. We need better leadership in these moments, and we’re going to have some hard conversations with our leadership this week because they were silent.”
Alongside Zirkel, senior defender Blythe Obar played the entire first half and kept the Baylor back line tough. However, Texas’ back line showed physicality that kept the Baylor offense out of a rhythm.
“From the beginning of the game, we were getting on the ball in the midfield,” Lenard said. “And then, there was a foul, there was a foul, there was a foul. And the ref called it, but there’s no warning, there’s no yellow card, and it was allowed to continue. It did start to throw us off, and I don’t think we responded with the appropriate level of physicality from our side of things. … We can’t just get bullied physically. And I think that probably was a piece of what swung the momentum in their favor.”
In the 54th minute, Longhorn junior midfielder Lexi Missimo, the top scorer in the nation, converted a penalty kick after a Baylor handball in the box.
“The penalty swung the momentum against us, but we need to be able to handle that situation a lot better than we did,” Lenard said. “I think we just played intimidated and nervous … while the penalty kick was a momentum changer for us. If we’re going to come back and respond with that lack of emotion, we’re going to have problems all season. So we’re going to have to go back and deal with why our attitudes weren’t a little bit different after we got scored on.”
The green and gold played tight for the next 20 minutes, but the Longhorns found late insurance, scoring three goals in the final 13 minutes to close out the game and seal a 4-0 victory. Texas will move to the SEC without a loss to Baylor in Waco since 2012.
“It’s not like it gets any easier from here on out,” Lenard said. “We’re going to have to be a lot better against BYU next week, or it’s going to be a similar outcome. I’m thinking that the UTSA game is probably placed in a pretty good time for us to give us an opportunity to mentally reset. We can’t look past them; I mean, they’re going to come in and feel excited and motivated. But it’s a game that we can make some corrections in and kind of get in a better place mentally.”
The Bears will be back in action for the final nonconference matchup of the year against UTSA (5-2-1) at 6 p.m. on Sunday at Betty Lou Mays Soccer Field.