Sept. 27, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Freshman Christine Watts hit the game-winner in the 56th minute and junior Mollie Patton set a new South Carolina shutout record as the 11th-ranked Gamecocks defeated Kentucky 1-0 Sunday at Stone Stadium to remain perfect on the year. South Carolina moves to 10-0-0 overall and 2-0 in SEC play while the loss drops the Wildcats to 3-4-3 (0-2-0). The Gamecocks and Stanford are the only two teams remaining in the nation without a loss or tie.
Patton earned her SEC-leading eighth shutout of the season and remains tied for the NCAA lead in the category. The eight shutouts are a South Carolina single-season record, while the number also improves her to 15 for her career, tying the career best marks set by Laura Armstrong (2004-07) and Elise Matthews (1999-03). She has allowed only one goal in 869:32 this season.
Watts hit her second goal of the season at 55:24 after stealing the ball at midfield and driving to the ’18 where she fired a shot that hit the left post and went into the net. The Gamecocks ended the match with a 14-2 shot advantage and 8-1 shot on goal advantage. Kentucky did not get a shot attempt in the entire second half of play.
“We’re starting off on the right foot with valuable points as we go forward with the season,” South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. “Six points (from two wins) here is what we needed to do because it’s going to be a tough road trip next week with Mississippi and Mississippi State. Today was a battle. Sundays are difficult in the SEC. Our players stepped up to the challenge and did a beautiful job to find a way to find a goal in the second half. We’ve been fortunate enough to score early all season. In this game they didn’t panic and found a way to come out and finish.”
After giving up a goal with 61 seconds remaining in Friday’s win against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks came out on fire against Kentucky with many looks in the opening minutes of the match. Kayla Grimsley, who entered the game with a nine-match scoring (goal and/or assist) streak, almost notched an assist in the third minute with a thru ball to Brooke Jacobsthat was nullified to an offsides call.
In the eighth minute, a Samantha Diaz-Matosas corner kick found Kortney Rhoades outside the ’18 for a shot that was tip-saved by Kentucky keeper Sydney Hiance and over the crossbar, one of many great saves the keeper would make throughout the match to keep the score respectable. Throughout the next 10 minutes, South Carolina peppered multiple attacks while controlling run of play, but the team was not able to fire off many shots until Lindsay Small struck a ball that went just over the crossbar.
Kentucky used the speed of Kirsten Robinson to earn a breakaway in the 31st minute with an attempt that likely would have been a strong test for Patton, but Diaz-Matosas ran the ball down and cleared it just before a shot could be attempted. Using the momentum, Jacobs pushed the ball up for the Gamecocks on the left flank and sent it to Grimsley, who then sent it through to Kira Campbell for a shot six yards out that required another strong save by Hiance.
The Gamecocks thought they found a break two minutes later after Grimsley broke past three Kentucky defenders in the box and had her jersey held after getting past the third defender, but no whistle was blown despite protests from the crowd and bench. Grimsley still managed to get a shot off, but her attempt was saved to end the threat and send the match into halftime at a scoreless tie.
Watts started the second half in place of Rhodes and used the opportunity to put South Carolina up at 55:24 with an unassisted goal. The score almost jumped to 2-0 less than 60 seconds later when Grimsley found Jacobs open inside the ’18, but that shot was saved.
“We changed a couple of things in the lineup to adjust how they were playing against us,” Smith said. “We raised our level of play, which is a credit to the players on the field. We didn’t let Kentucky take us out of our game. We continued top play, keep the ball and get more chances in the second half. I’m excited about the adjustments our team made at halftime to finish off the game.”
Two other South Carolina attempts just missed the mark with a push save on a Gamecock cross in the 65th and an Ellen Fahey free kick that bounced over the net in the 70th before South Carolina scored what seemed to be the insurance goal in the 78th. Diaz-Matosas took a free kick on the left flank that seemed to bend into the far corner of the post before hitting the post and bouncing out. The Gamecocks began to celebrate and head back for the restart, but the ball instead was ruled out of the net and sent for a Gamecock corner kick. Despite protests, the call remained and South Carolina played the remaining minutes with possession of the ball as Kentucky was not able to get a shot in the final 45 minutes.
“She was as effective today as she normally is,” Smith said of Grimsley, whose streak with a point ended at nine games. “She does her job and the defense worries about her, which created space for Christine to come up and take a shot. She’s an unselfish player at times and she needs to make sure she takes her chances when she can. The streak didn’t end in my mind because she played well. She’ll get her goals and get her chances throughout the SEC season.”
South Carolina hits the road next weekend when the team travels to the Magnolia State to take on Ole Miss and Mississippi State. The match against the Rebels will kick off at 8 p.m.