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Nov. 2, 2011

Final Stats

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By Miquel Jacobs
Assistant Media Relations Director

November 2, 2011
Team 1st 2nd Total
Alabama 1 0 1
South Carolina 0 0 0
Coach Smith

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – For the first time in SEC Tournament history the top two seeds fell on the opening day with top-seed and SEC regular season champion South Carolina dropping a 1-0 decision to Alabama Wednesday night at the Orange Beach Sportsplex. The loss ended Carolina’s (15-6-0) eight-match winning streak, and Alabama (10-7-3) moves on the SEC semifinal.

The top seed fell for the first time since LSU knocked off top-seeded Auburn, 1-0, in the 2002 SEC Tournament. It is the first time in the current format that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds both lost in the quarterfinal after second-seeded LSU dropped a 3-0 decision to Auburn in the first game of the tournament. The loss ends South Carolina’s streak of making it to the tournament final after winning the tourney in 2009 and finishing as runner-up in 2010.

“Alabama really came out to play tonight,” South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. “They outworked us in the first half, and they got a goal. We didn’t compete like we have been and like we needed to. We didn’t find a way to complete the passes like we did when we played them the first time. Give credit to them. They needed to win down the stretch and found a way. Tonight wasn’t our night. Things didn’t fall the way we needed them too. We let them impose their game on us. We need to be better. No matter who we face we need to play the way we need to battle and fight. It just wasn’t there tonight like it usually is and can be. It was disappointing.”

Despite holding a 6-5 shot edge in the opening half, the Gamecocks trailed 1-0 after only mustering to get two shots on goal in the period. Alabama went ahead at 29:12 when sophomore Molly Atherton finished a cross just eight yards out of goal. It marked just the third time since the start of conference play that the Gamecocks did not score first, the other two times being a 1-0 loss to Kentucky and a 4-1 win at LSU.

“When you go down a goal you’re putting pressure on yourself,” Smith said. “We couldn’t find the equalizer. It was a lot like our game against Kentucky this season. That was a disappointing loss that this team bounced back from and went on a run to win eight games in a row. I have complete confidence the team will learn from tonight and get back to what they did well to win the regular season. With this group I know they’ll be ready to play in the NCAA’s next week.”

Both teams had early shots on goal in the opening 15 minutes, but neither threatened the goalkeepers as both were able to easily pick them up off the ground. Neither team was able to get much offense going through 25 minutes before the Crimson Tide came out of nowhere to take the lead in the 30th minute with the shot inside the area.

On the ensuing Carolina possession, SEC Offensive Player of the Year Kayla Grimsley took on the two defenders assigned to her and forced a Carolina corner kick. Andie Romness fed Grimsley for a shot that was blocked in the box, but on the reset Grimsley fed Danielle Au for an equalizer just eight yards out of the net that was negated by an offsides call to keep Alabama ahead.

South Carolina’s remaining best look in the half came in the 43rd minute when Grimsley and Kortney Rhoades ran on a 2v3. Grimsley fed Rhoades to the top of the ’18 for an open look on net, but Justine Bernier made the save on the shot to allow Alabama to take a 1-0 lead into the break.

The Gamecocks came out with an offensive fire in the opening 15 minutes of the second half but couldn’t test the keeper with their looks. Maria Petroni and Lolly Holland both had attempts inside the area that went wide of the frame. Grimsley forced a turnover in the penalty area in the 60th minute and fed Rhoades for a shot, but her attempt went over the net. With the ball again at the top of the area in the 61st, Alabama’s K.K. Duffy picked up a yellow card for holding Grimsley.

Needing a goal to force overtime, the Gamecocks continued to press and rifled shot after shot, but few of the attempts found the frame. The ones that did threaten Bernier required big saves, and the senior performed ably to keep the Gamecocks off the board. The Gamecocks had three shots within six yards in the final 20 minutes but could not convert. The best opportunity for the equalizer came in the 77th minute with a low rifle by Christa Neary that Bernier deflected through traffic to preserve the upset.

South Carolina awaits its NCAA Tournament fate when the selection show is broadcast live on at 4:30 p.m. The Gamecocks are seeking their fifth-consecutive bid to the tournament.

“This group is not going to want to play its last match. They have to play like it’s their last, and it will be for many of them. They don’t want that to end. I know they’ll come out fighting and give it their all. I expect them to play that way and play the way that they played to make themselves champions. I expect to see that kind of fight from them in the first round, so I know the next opponent we face will face the best South Carolina team we have.”