Gamecocks Capture Conference USA Tournament Championship!
Mike Sambursky and his teammates celebrate Carolina's Conference USA Tournament title.
 
Mike Sambursky and his teammates celebrate Carolina's Conference USA Tournament title.

Nov. 13, 2005

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DALLAS - The University of South Carolina men's soccer team captured the 2005 Conference USA Tournament Title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with 1-0 victory over the University of Tulsa on Sunday afternoon at Westcott Field on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Junior Mike Sambursky scored the game-winning goal on an assist from senior Greg Reece in the closing minutes of the first half and the Gamecocks notched their fourth shutout of the season to improve to 12-6-2.

"I can't say enough about this team. They have just risen to the occasion in every aspect," said head coach Mark Berson, who claimed his 380th victory at Carolina today. "I'm so proud for the seniors. It's a great way to finish their career in the regular season. To win a championship and bring a championship home to everyone in Columbia is a real thrill for all of us. We're just really excited."

The Gamecocks, who were the No. 2 seed in the C-USA Tournament, played their fifth game in 10 days Sunday. Due to Hurricane Katrina, South Carolina's matches at Florida International and UCF were postponed on Oct. 21 and 23, forcing USC to travel to Florida last weekend (Nov. 4 & Nov. 6) to make up the games. Carolina returned from Florida on Sunday on Nov. 6 and flew to Dallas Tuesday morning, bring the team's travel log to more than 2,300 miles in just six days. USC played to a 0-0 tie with No. 7-seed Kentucky in the first round, but advanced in a penalty kick shootout, 3-0. On Friday, the Gamecocks defeated Memphis, 2-1, to earn a spot in the title match against No. 8-seed Tulsa.

"The way things fell to us, having to go to Florida to play those games and then come straight (to Dallas). This team has been on the road essentially for two straight weeks, with about 48 hours in Columbia," Berson said. "To come here when all these teams had a bye (in the final weekend of the regular season) and to win in this tournament format with everything on the line, it speaks volumes to this team, their character and their heart."

In the championship match, South Carolina generated the first dangerous chance in the 11th minute. Ralph Pace played a ball to Ayo Akinsete on the run down the right flank. Ryan Deter made a run up the middle and Akinsete crossed the ball into the middle of the box, setting up Deter's shot, but Tulsa goalkeeper Dominic Cervi was there to make the save.

Just over three minutes later, the Gamecocks got in behind the Tulsa defense again. crossed the ball into the middle of the box. Deter's shot was blocked by the TU defense, but Akinsete stepped to attempt a left-footed strike that Cervi knocked down.

The Golden Hurricane nearly scored with just over 15 minutes left to play in the first half. USC goalkeeper Mike Gustavson came out of the 6-yard box and defender Ryan Leeton tried to clear the a ball that was crossed into the box, but it bounced off a Tulsa player, rattled around the near post before going out of bounds wide.

Carolina broke the stalemate in the 41st minute on Sambursky's eighth goal of the season. Reece kicked the ball down field to Sambursky, who drove into the box. Cervi came out to stop Sambursky's initial attempt, but Sambursky got around him and scored the ball past a Tulsa defender from the left side and into the back right corner of the net. The assist was Reece's first of the season.

The Gamecocks kept the pressure on Tulsa in the early part of the second half, out-shooting the Golden Hurricane, 3-1, and forcing Cervi to make three saves.

TU's best scoring chance came on a corner kick with just over two minutes remaining in the match. Matt Wiley's header was on goal, but Gustavson was there to snag the save for the Gamecocks.

South Carolina had seven shots on goal in the match while holding Tulsa to just five. Gustavson picked up saves on all five of those shots on goal and registered his fourth shutout of the season. Cervi finished with six saves.

After starting the season at 0-5-0, South Carolina finished with a 12-1-2 record in its last 15 games and will play in the NCAA Tournament.

"We started off the season with five losses and they never doubted themselves," Berson said of his team's comeback. "They believed in themselves. They kept to what we need to do to be successful. They were such great fighters during the course of the season, both psychologically to stay strong and on the soccer field to adapt and play. They've done a great job."

Four Gamecock players made the all-tournament team, including Gustavson, Leeton, junior Ralph Pace and senior Eric Szeszycki.

Carolina is in its first season playing in Conference USA. A longtime independent, USC has only been in a conference for two seasons since the program's inception in 1978, when it played in the Metro Conference in 1993 and 1994. South Carolina won the Metro in 1993 and went on to play for the National Championship.

South Carolina will play in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons and the 18th time in school history. The 48-team field and draw for the 2005 NCAA Tournament will be announced live at 4 p.m. ET on Monday on ESPNews.