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Sept. 28, 2008

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Freshman Natalie Aaron scored her second goal in as many games to even the match in the 73rd minute as the South Carolina women’s soccer team battled Georgia to a 1-1 draw Sunday afternoon at Stone Stadium. The Gamecocks finish the weekend with a 7-1-3 overall record and a 1-0-1 start in SEC play while the Bulldogs move to 2-7-1 on the year (0-1-1 SEC).

After hitting the game-winner in the 74th minute Friday to lead Carolina to its first regular season victory over Tennessee, Aaron hooked up with fellow freshman Kayla Grimsley at 72:41 to even the match 1-1 after Georgia went ahead early in the first half off a goal from Carrie Patterson. Grimsley also assisted Aaron’s game-winner on Friday, giving her classmate payback this weekend after Aaron assisted Grimsley on her first career goal this season against Furman.

“Kayla’s a great player,” Aaron said. “You can’t ask her to do anything better. She’s a playmaker. She makes everything easy on us with her passes; she does all the hard work. I assisted her first goal and she assisted my first goal so we’re good!”

The Gamecocks improve to 20-1-4 at Stone Stadium since the start of the 2006 season with the tie, playing in their first double-overtime game at home since competing against Vanderbilt last season. The victory over Tennessee and tie against Georgia marks just the second time that Carolina recorded a positive result against both teams in the same season, the last time occurring in 2006 when Carolina tied Tennessee and defeated Georgia at Stone Stadium.

“I’m definitely pleased with this weekend,” South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. “Historically these are teams where we’ve dropped these points more times than not, and to be at home and feel like we really played well this weekend shows that we can be one of the top teams in the conference. I was pleased today to come back from a goal behind. We made a play and dug deep to find a way not to lose the game. We had a couple of chances to put it away and finish the game and obviously I was disappointed at that, but I’m pleased at how we came back and fought hard.”

The two teams combined for nine shots in a first half that lacked the statistical evidence of 45 minutes full of excitement. The Gamecocks recorded their first shot in the 12th minute on a header from Lindsay Small that was saved by Georgia keeper Michelle Betos before Carolina found itself in the tensest situation they have faced this season. A handball in the Carolina penalty area at 18:37 led to a Georgia penalty kick. The attempt by junior midfielder Natalie Farley hit the crossbar and bounced over the net as the Gamecocks escaped.

Grimsley had a look in the 34th minute that sailed high before Georgia’s Jamie Pollock took a shot in the 38th minute that just missed the far post. However, the Bulldogs would find the net 47 seconds later when a Carolina defensive miscue led to a 1v1 for Patterson who sunk a shot into the upper right corner of the net for the lead at 38:34. South Carolina would only get one look on frame the remainder of the half as Blakely Mattern’s shot in the 44th minute was saved.

One-upping the first half, the teams combined for just seven shots in the second frame. Carolina’s first opportunity came in the 67th as Brooke Jacobs took the Georgia defenders on in the 18′ by herself, keeping the ball after getting tackled by one defender before reclaiming the ball a second later after tripping over Betos. Her cross with the open net was cleared by the last defender to end the Carolina threat.

The Gamecocks would score the equalizer five minutes later when Grimsley took the same approach, using her footwork to get past four Bulldogs before hitting a thru ball to Aaron for the score. The assist was Grimsley’s third of the year, a mark that ties Brittiny Rhoades for the team lead.

“Our midfield did excellent and Kayla did a good job moving back,” Smith said. “She can pass the ball so well and she did great to put the ball in dangerous areas. Natalie Aaron as a freshman, this was her second game coming through with an important goal which is fantastic in giving her that much more confidence. She’s finding a way to help us and make an impact.”

South Carolina held a 5-0 advantage in shots in the overtime periods, leading to a 13-8 overall advantage in the match. Mollie Patton registered two saves for the Gamecocks as she continues her strong play in goal.

“Going into the half we were trying to change our mentality,” Smith said. “(We’re) down a goal but we’re the team that came in here with a winning record. We’re at home and you have to play like that. I thought we were more organized and moved the ball better in the second half. It took a lot of heart and determination. In overtime both teams were exhausted. We wanted to keep our fresh players up top. We started to run at them a bit and I thought we did a good job to take advantage of that.”

South Carolina returns to action next weekend when for their first SEC road trip. The Gamecocks will travel to Lexington, Ky., to take on the Kentucky Wildcats Friday at 7 p.m. before heading to Vanderbilt for a Sunday afternoon tilt scheduled for 2 p.m. The Wildcats (3-5-2, 1-0-1 SEC) have recorded three consecutive shutouts while Vanderbilt (6-3-1, 0-2-0 SEC) has dropped two straight to open SEC play.

“We’ve talked about every game getting a little better,” Smith said. “I thought we’ve done that. Today it was a matter of who wants the game more and who can handle the second game on a weekend. It’s very difficult to play on Sunday in the SEC so we have to make sure we don’t drop our play even though it’s a tough thing to do for both teams. Now we need to make sure we can take care of business on the road.”