Elexa Bahr dribbled left, cut right and prepared to shoot.
Then, she stopped. She wasn’t satisfied with the distance. She took one more hard touch into the Gators’ box and let the ball fly. She hit it squarely into the top left corner of the net, zooming past goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese for the lone score of the night.
The No. 17 Gators (13-5, 7-3 SEC) succumbed to the No. 2 South Carolina Gamecocks (15-1-1, 9-0-1 SEC) Thursday night at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in a 1-0 loss.
Regardless of the match's result, the Gators were assured the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Alabama. Florida is scheduled to arrive in Alabama Sunday night to play against the No. 6-seeded Auburn on Tuesday.
Even with the lack of first-half goals, the early stages of the match could not have been more tense on several key plays. In the 15th minute, defender Julia Lester played a cross into the USC box from the near sideline. The ball just grazed off the head of midfielder Deanne Rose and onto the foot of midfielder Sarah Troccoli. While fighting off a defender, Troccoli lobbed the ball high into the air and over Gamecocks goalie Mikayla Krzeczowski. It bounced off the goal line, hit the crossbar on its way back up, and was finally cleared by the Gamecocks’ defense.
While the game featured fewer fouls compared to other tough matches for the Gators, the physicality of the contest was evident throughout. Yellow cards were issued to each team in the first 48 minutes. Gators defender Rachelle Smith was injured on her card-worthy infraction, a takedown of South Carolina’s Savannah McCaskill just outside Florida’s box. Smith stayed on the pitch to make an important clearance in her own box just minutes later.
UF Coach Becky Burleigh said her team “had the talent to be right there with them,” and that she was a fan of the way the Gamecocks played.
“I think they’re one of the best teams in this league, and they’ve done that consistently,” Burleigh said. “But I also think we have the talent to be right there with them.”
Troccoli, starting at midfield in place of the injured Gabby Seiler, said her team needed to have a sense of urgency it didn’t have until the final minutes of the loss.
“I think we really picked it up in the last couple of minutes,” Troccoli said. “We kind of put everything forward with some last-ditch efforts.”
Troccoli and the Gators had chances up until the final seconds ticked off the clock. Pelayo streaked down the near sideline with the 10-second countdown and flung one last ball into the box. Krzeczowski intercepted the cross, and fell to the ground as the final seconds ran off.
Burleigh said she would love the chance for revenge in the SEC Tournament.
“My biggest hope is to see them again,” Burleigh said.
You can follow Morgan McMullen on Twitter @MorganMcMuffin, and contact him at email@example.com.