Oct. 30, 2009
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Playing for the SEC title in front of a television audience at James G. Pressly Stadium, No. 13 South Carolina dropped its third match of the season in a 3-0 decision at No. 10 Florida in the regular season finale for both teams. With the loss, South Carolina finishes second in the SEC East and will be either the third or fourth seed in the SEC Tournament, and Florida (14-4-2, 8-1-2 SEC) earns its 10th SEC title with the win.
Ellen Fahey’s presence was missed on the backline as South Carolina allowed two goals for the first time this season to fall to 15-3-1 on the year with a 7-3-1 SEC record. Missing their starting center back after she received a red card against LSU Sunday, the Gamecocks allowed two goals for the first time since a 3-2 overtime loss to William and Mary in last year’s NCAA Tournament (Nov. 14, 2008). The Gamecocks hadn’t allowed two first half goals since the 2008 SEC Tournament. South Carolina hadn’t allowed three goals in an SEC match since dropping a 3-0 final to Vanderbilt on Oct. 8, 2006.
“You lose sight of the great season you’ve had after you lose two in a row,” South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. “They have to remember how strong of a team they are. It was a good match. The score doesn’t’ reflect the game tonight, and they have to realize a lot of teams had a tough time to come in here and play. You can’t give the chances we did because they’ll take advantage of those opportunities. Besides that, we had good chances and played hard. We’re looking forward to the next season which is next week at Orange Beach. We’ll refocus, regroup and learn from this.”
In the first half, the Gators found themselves on the right side of the ball numerous times – both by design and by good fortune. Florida scored its first goal of the game in the 20th minute after Erika Tymrak’s shot hit the crossbar and dropped right to McKenzie Barney’s head for a goal at 19:03. A Gamecock defensive miscue in the box led to an open opportunity for Barney in the 25th that she slotted into the net at 24:16 for her second goal of the match.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Gators used design to stay on the fortunate side of the ball defensively. Throughout the opening stanza, every time South Carolina’s leading scorer Kayla Grimsley touched the ball in the attacking third, she was fouled – something that occurred four times in the opening 30 minutes. One Gamecock free kick 20 yards out by Kim Miller was saved by goalkeeper Katie Fraine, two free kicks were corralled by Fraine before finding a Gamecock head, and the fourth taken by Kortney Rhoades 22 yards out hit the crossbar to prevent Carolina from getting on the board.
The tactic was even used successfully against Rhoades, who was pulled down by Florida’s Lauren Hyde after Rhoades stripped her of the ball at midfield. Hyde was given the match’s first yellow card as a result of the play. The two teams finished the half fairly even as the squads went into the half with six shots each, but Carolina held a 2-0 advantage in corner kicks.
“Kayla has to know that’s what they had to do because she is good on the ball,” Smith said. “You just have to weather that as a player. She has to know she’ll get fouled. When that happens, we have to take advantage of our set piece opportunities. We have to pick up our play and get dangerous when that happens because we had chances to get goals out of those set pieces.”
Offense was minimal to start the second half with neither team getting a shot in the first 20 minutes of the half. The Gamecocks had a nice look in the 64th when Miller cleared a high rising ball into the box, but the bounce went too high for Brooke Jacobs who had gotten free behind the Gator defense.
South Carolina gave Florida a scare in the 70th after Grimsley sent a ball to Rhoades in the penalty area that found the feet of four different Gamecocks before it was sent out for a Carolina corner kick. The Gamecocks had their best shot at score in the 74th after Grimsley outran the Gator defense off a Samantha Diaz-Matosas clearance, but Fraine ran off her line to save the shot while sliding. Four minutes later, Blakely Mattern slotted a ball to Diaz-Matosas, inside the penalty area, but a slide tackle ended the threat.
Florida scored the final goal at 87:33 when Holly King headed in a Gator free kick to earn the decisive 3-0 lead.
Shelley Smith’s team finished the 2009 regular season with the best overall and conference records in program history. Her team has improved in the SEC East standings each of the past five years after placing sixth in 2005, fifth in 2006, fourth in 2007, third in 2008 and second in 2009.
South Carolina will next compete in the SEC Tournament that will be held at the Orange Beach Soccer Complex in Orange Beach, Ala. The tournament begins Wednesday afternoon, but South Carolina’s opponent will not be known until Ole Miss and Alabama complete their make-up game that is scheduled to begin Sunday at 2 p.m.