Shortly after she entered the game, Lais Araujo jetted toward the Florida sideline. The junior midfielder hugged her teammates in celebration after converting her first free kick of the season in the 31st minute of UF's match against Auburn on Tuesday.
“She stepped up and stuck it,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said in a release. “It was a great finish by Lais (Araujo) on the free kick. She had been consistent with those in practice.”
The Gators (14-5, 8-3 SEC) took a step toward winning their third consecutive SEC Tournament with help from Araujo’s goal, as they took down the Tigers (7-6-5, 4-3-4 SEC), 1-0, in the quarterfinals at the Orange Beach Sportsplex in Orange Beach, Alabama.
With the victory, UF took revenge over an Auburn team it lost to earlier in the season. Now, Florida will look to do the same in the semifinals Thursday against Texas A&M, which defeated the Gators, 2-1, on Sept. 21.
“It was great to kind of get (that) monkey off our back a little bit,” Burleigh said. “Very rarely in life do you get do-overs. We got one against Auburn. Now, we get one against Texas A&M.”
However, in the early stages of the game, UF looked like it might succumb to the heavy Auburn pressure that gave it problems when the two teams met on Oct. 15.
In the 14th minute, an Auburn press led to the game’s first meaningful chance when Jaelyn Gadson swiped the ball from UF defender Parker Roberts just in front of the endline and found Ellie Leek alone in the Gators box. Leek rifled off a shot, but not before goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese dashed into position to make an impressive foot save.
Another press deep in the Florida half led to an Auburn scoring chance in the 20th minute when Gadson took on Marckese in a one-on-one opportunity. Her shot beat Marckese, but bounced back into play off the far post.
The Gators had early scoring chances of their own despite being without SEC Freshman of the Year, forward Deanne Rose, who is currently with the Canadian National Team ahead of a pair of friendly matches against the United States in mid-November.
Rose’s replacement, freshman Madison Alexander, had a breakaway chance in the seventh minute, but her shot was saved comfortably by goalkeeper Sarah Le Beau.
Roberts also nearly converted a headed chance on a Briana Solis corner kick in the 12th minute. Roberts made good contact, but her shot was cleared off the line by the Auburn defender stationed at the near post.
Auburn outshot UF 7-6 in the first half, but a handball in the 30th minute just outside the Tigers' box set up Araujo's free kick. The goal is only Araujo’s second of the season and her second game winner, the first coming against No. 1 Stanford on Aug. 25.
The opening goal turned the momentum of the match in favor of Florida.
“I think the biggest takeaway was advancing the ball,” Burleigh said. “When we have composure and keep the ball moving, it’s really difficult for other teams to deal with.”
UF was able to pass the ball away from Auburn's press for the remainder of the game, eating up the clock and keeping the remainder of the chances in the Tigers' half of the field. The Gators only allowed three shots after they took the lead, none of which fell on target and two of which came desperately in the final six minutes.
“I don’t think we played our best game, but it’s much better to come out with a win and not play well,” Burleigh said. “And you have to give credit to Auburn, especially in the last 15 minutes or so. They really pumped balls into the box, but I thought we weathered that pretty well.”
You can follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.