Nov. 8, 2009
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. - The South Carolina women's soccer team won the 2009 SEC Tournament championship with a dramatic 8-7 edge in penalty kicks over LSU at the Orange Beach Sportsplex. The title is the first in program history and the first SEC title won by a South Carolina team since the women's track & field team won the 2005 outdoor championships.
"It's unbelievable," South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. "It just shows the heart these guys have had. You don't want it to be too dramatic, but it's well deserved today. They played their hearts out, battled and never gave up. That's what this game is all about. I'm so happy for the seniors and the whole team. They deserve that championship."
Tournament MVP Blakely Mattern scored the tying goal with two minutes remaining, and the Gamecocks (17-3-2) held on for the first penalty kick shootout game in an SEC final since the 2003 season.
"I'm speechless," Mattern said. "My team has fought so hard since we've been here and all season to get to this point. To be down a goal and to come back with two minutes left shows heart. That's what we've shown all week. I'm so proud of our team and how hard we worked to never give up. I knew it was in us and I knew we could win. I couldn't be happier of this senior class that has put in so much for four years."
The game marks South Carolina's first game in penalty kicks since the team dropped a 4-1 margin to Duke in the 2007 NCAA Tournament first round. The last time an SEC final was decided by penalty kicks was the 2003 final when Tennessee defeated Florida by a 7-6 edge in the shootout.
Four Gamecocks were named to the All-tournament team as South Carolina earns the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and a likely national seed. In addition to Mattern, Kayla Grimsley, Kim Miller and Lindsay Small were all named to the team to cap the historic weekend for the program. With the advancement, South Carolina has avenged all three losses it earned during the season by defeating Georgia, Florida and advancing past LSU in the five-day tournament.
"We have good leadership and experience," Smith said. "They learned from the mistakes they made through the season. The losses make you stronger if you deal with them properly. They reacted the way they needed to and took care of business here at the SEC Tournament. We couldn't be prouder as a coaching staff."
South Carolina will hold a watch party Monday night when the bracket for the 2009 NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament is announced. The Gamecocks will meet at Carolina Ale House in The Vista from 6:30-8:30 p.m. The brackets will be announced on ESPNews in the 8-8:30 p.m. block. Fans are encouraged to celebrate with the Gamecocks as the team has earned its third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.
LSU's Melissa Clarke gave LSU the lead at 23:14 courtesy of a penalty kick, the second awarded against the Gamecocks in the tournament. After a 50-50 tackle in the box saw Tiger midfielder Taryne Boudreau fall, LSU was awarded the PK and Clarke's shot pinged off the left post and into the net for the lead.
Other than the free shot on goal, the first half belonged to the Gamecocks who controlled the run of play throughout the 45-minute stanza. The opening 21 minutes were run after run by the Gamecocks, but the team couldn't get a strong look to find the frame in the heavy winds. Carolina had early opportunities in the fifth and ninth when one thru ball to Kortney Rhoades was called offsides and another cross by Brooke Jacobs just missed the head of Samantha Diaz-Matosas.
For a span of three minutes South Carolina played with only 10 on the field after Brittiny Rhoades left the pitch after getting cut in a collision with LSU's Carlie Banks. Despite playing down a player, the Gamecocks continued to press and force LSU keeper Mo Isom to keep coming off her line to collect balls in the box. South Carolina's best look of the half came in the 38th minute when a Kim Miller free kick found the head of Lindsay Small, but the header went high to end the threat.
Down in the shot count 5-1 at halftime, South Carolina came out strong in the second half to string together a collection of attempts. In the 52nd minute, Jacobs was tripped by LSU's Chelsea Potts to set up a free kick, but the attempt went high. Four minutes later, Jacobs sent an arching cross to the far post that found the head of Diaz-Matosas, but the header also went high.
Right after the attempt, Carolina was awarded a corner kick, and after a short corner Diaz-Matosas dribbled the ball into the box before getting tripped up by two defenders, but no foul was called on the play and LSU was able to clear the ball. Isom also saved another South Carolina header in the 63rd by Kacie Brewer.
The Gamecocks thought they scored the equalizer in the 72nd after the final TV timeout when Jacobs sent a cross that was corralled by Isom, but Miller reached the ball at the same time and knocked the ball loose and into the net. However, the referee called no goal due to possession by the goalkeeper.
As South Carolina continued to put shots on Isom, it wasn't until two minutes remained in regulation that Carolina was able to put one into the net when Mattern and Grimsley connected on a give-and-go and Mattern was able to slot the ball around Isom for her seventh goal of the season at the 87:52 mark. The assist was Grimsley's seventh of the year and second of the tournament as the teams went into overtime tied, 1-1.
The first overtime period was overwhelmingly in favor of South Carolina with the ball on the Gamecock attacking end for a majority of the stanza. The Gamecocks had four opportunities that were thwarted by the LSU keeper in potential goal scoring plays. In the 91st, Jacobs had a header that went high, and two minutes later a Grimsley cross barely missed Diaz-Matosas's head for what would have been an open shot on goal. Isom was able to secure two game-saving saves when Small's shot from eight yards out was collected in the 95th and Kortne Rhoades's open shot 10 yards out was saved.
Neither team could manage an advantage in the second overtime period with the best look coming one minute in after a Carolina defensive miscue gave LSU's Melissa Clarke a wide open shot on Mollie Patton. The Gamecock keeper made the diving save to keep the game tied 1-1 and send the game into penalty kicks.
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