Nov. 14, 2010
MEMPHIS – A penalty kick by junior midfielder Stephen Morrissey with just over three minutes remaining in double overtime gave the South Carolina men’s soccer team (12-6-2) a 1-0 win over Tulsa in the championship match of the 2010 Conference USA Tournament on Sunday in Memphis at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex. With the win, South Carolina receives Conference USA’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“The game unfolded pretty much as I thought it would,” South Carolina head coach Mark Berson said. “In the regular season, we beat Tulsa 1-0 at their place in a close match. Last year, in the regular season, they scored a goal with seconds left to earn a tie at our place and we tied them the year before. To have this game come down to the wire was not a surprise. What was really amazing for me is that our team was able to persevere physically. We played Kentucky last Sunday. Most other teams played that Friday, so we’re on the road on Sunday. So we played Sunday, Wednesday, Friday and then again today. We were fully extended and our guys dug really deep. I’m just really proud of them. Our staff did a great job. Our strength and conditioning people did a great job, and our players did a great job.”
The tournament title is the second for Carolina in the league, as the Gamecocks won the 2005 C-USA Tournament in their first year competing in the league. That match was also a 1-0 decision over Tulsa. The match versus the Golden Hurricane on Sunday was Carolina’s fourth in seven days. Tulsa was the three-time defending champion of the Conference USA Tournament, having won the event in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
“It’s incredible,” Morrissey said. “We’ve been dreaming about this since the start of the season. The first goal was to win the conference championship, and the second was to get to the NCAA tournament. Today, both just happened.”
South Carolina held a 19-12 upperhand in shots in the match, including an 8-4 upperhand in shots on goal. Senior forward Blake Brettschneider led Carolina with eight shots, including three on frame. Freshman midfielder Bradlee Baladez added three shots, while senior midfielder Sam Arthur added two. The goal for Morrissey was his third of the season and his second of the tournament.
Senior goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer played an excellent match in goal for Carolina, collecting four saves in his eighth shutout of the season. Tulsa counterpart Ray Clark collected seven saves. Ashley McInnes and Hunter Christiansen led Tulsa with three shots each.
South Carolina’s first chance at goal in the match came at the five-minute mark. Cates collected a ball out of the Gamecock defensive third and lofted a high cross over the Tulsa defenders to Baladez, who attempted to chip over the Tulsa goalkeeper, but the shot sailed high. Back and forth play followed through the television timeout of the first half. Tulsa threatened with 17 minutes remaining, as the Golden Hurricane drew a free-kick opportunity just outside the Gamecock 18-yard box, but McInnes hit a strike high over the crossbar to hold the contest scoreless.
Brettschneider tallied Carolina’s third shot trying to chip the Tulsa goalkeeper with 13 minutes remaining in the half. The C-USA Co-MVP collected a loose ball at midfield and sent a high strike towards frame, which landed just over the crossbar. Carolina threatened minutes later on a header shot by Arthur that was saved by Clark, and Brettschneider was called for offsides the following minute as South Carolina found its offensive rhythm late in the half. Arthur added another shot on a set piece by Cates at the 42-minute mark that sailed high and Maurer made a stellar save on a hard strike from McInnes late in the set, as the contest stood at 0-0 at halftime.
Tulsa started the second half with its fourth shot of the match, as a strike by Neil was over the crossbar. Brettschneider had Carolina’s first chance of the second half. After the teams traded possession near midfield, Brettschneider found the ball at his feet, racing down the left sideline towards goal. Clark challenged, but Brettschneider’s strike went just wide of the goal post.
South Carolina continued to press the Tulsa defense. Brettschneider and Gamecock defender Mike Mangotic each had shots sail wide midway through the half. Carolina nearly earned a one-goal lead with 15 minutes remaining in regulation, as Clark saved a shot inside the six-yard box by J.P. Rafferty.
The Gamecock defensive line played strong down the stretch, blocking consecutive shots by the Golden Hurricane at the 82-minute mark.
South Carolina drew a corner kick with just over one-minute remaining in regulation on a saved shot by Brettschneider. Carolina earned two shots after the corner, but at the end of 90 minutes, the contest was still tied, sending the match into overtime.
Both teams had their chances in the first overtime period, but neither team marked the scoreboard. Baladez had Carolina’s best a chance, a strike wide of frame with two minutes remaining in the set.
After back and forth play to start the second overtime session, Morrissey’s penalty kick propelled a South Carolina celebration, as Carolina earned the 2010 Conference USA Tournament title. After a Tulsa hand ball inside the 18-yard box, Morrissey sent a bullet past Clark for the South Carolina victory.
South Carolina will hold an NCAA Selection Show Watch Party on Monday beginning at 4 p.m. at the Carolina Ale House in The Vista. The NCAA selection show will be broadcast on ESPNU from 4:30-5 p.m.