Mayra Pelayo and Gabby Seiler embraced in exhilaration.
Pelayo probably didn’t expect to score 20 yards from goal, just beyond the right side of Missouri’s box. Tigers goalkeeper Kristen Rivers probably didn’t expect the ball to be chipped from such a distance.
But No. 9 Florida was expected to win Thursday night at James G. Pressly Stadium, defeating Missouri 2-1 and capturing its 400th win as a program since starting under coach Becky Burleigh in 1995.
UF’s offense came out determined to get the milestone victory for its coach.
Shots from defender Cassie Owens and forward Deanne Rose came inside the first five minutes of play, but the Gators (10-2, 4-1 SEC) waited until the 13th minute to open the scoring.
Seiler received a pass on the left flank from junior midfielder Briana Solis. After beating a Missouri defender, Seiler slipped a pass to Parker Roberts at the top of the six-yard box, giving the redshirt sophomore a tap-in goal.
Just 26 seconds later, Pelayo netted her goal, which came on assisting passes from Seiler and Rose.
“We have really been trying to work on coming out strong,” Seiler said. “So I think we wanted to put the pressure on them, and I think we had a good first half where we were in control.”
The two assists from Seiler gives her five on the season, as she leads all Gators with 15 points.
By the half’s end, Florida accumulated 13 total shots, putting six on goal and two in the back of the net.
Defensively, UF held Missouri (5-8-1, 1-4 SEC) to one first-half shot, which was dealt with easily by goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese in the 24th minute.
The Gators started the second half with similar attacking fervor.
In the 48th minute, Rose won a penalty kick.
With a chance to put the game out of reach, Seiler stepped to the spot. The captain was perfect on penalty kicks up to this point in the season, but had her shot blocked by Rivers.
Shortly thereafter, Tiger coach Bryan Blitz drew a yellow card from the sideline.
Blitz’s penalty jolted Missouri, which began to heavily press Florida.
The Tigers earned a free kick just 25 yards from goal in the 57th minute. Madison Lewis struck the ball with pace over the UF wall, giving Marckese no chance at a save and narrowing the lead to one.
Missouri found chances in the 60th and 62nd minutes, but quality goalkeeping from Marckese kept the Tigers from leveling the score.
With an in-form goalkeeper behind it, the Florida defense kept Missouri from finding any more opportunities and held the Tigers shotless for the remainder of the match.
The staunch defending guided the Gators to victory, which came under special circumstances aside from the 400 milestone.
The Gators dressed in pink uniforms for the annual “Kicking for the Cure” match in support of breast cancer awareness, a disease that has affected coach Becky Burleigh and her team personally.
“This has always been a cause that’s been dear to my heart,” Burleigh said. “My mom had breast cancer. So it was really meaningful for me. And it’s just nice to play for something bigger than yourself sometimes.”