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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Slow start knocks Gators out of SEC Soccer Tourney

ORANGE BEACH, ALA. - Seven days can be a long time.

Just one week after No. 8 Florida dominated South Carolina en route to a regular season Southeastern Conference championship, the Gamecocks jumped on the Gators early in the rematch, knocking the top seed out of the SEC Tournament in the semifinals Friday.

The two games could not have been much different for the Gators.

In the regular season matchup, UF jumped out to an early lead, visibly shaking South Carolina's confidence. On Friday, the Gators played a sloppy first half, giving the Gamecocks a chance to land an upset.

"I don't know if we were as up for it mentally as they were because that was a big revenge game for them after we beat them 3-0 at home," midfielder Brooke Thigpen said.

The Gators were out of sync early and, as a result, the Gamecocks spent a lot of time in UF's defensive third. Defender Lauren Hyde said Florida's inability to keep possession made the backline's job more difficult.

"It just puts us under a little more pressure because we'll play the ball out and then one, two passes (later), it's coming down our throat," Hyde said.

UF held off the first couple South Carolina attacks, but the Gamecocks continued to play near the Gators' goal and the Gamecocks midfielder Kim Miller drew a foul inside the penalty box in the 11th minute.

Miller's penalty kick was placed perfectly in the upper-left corner of the goal, giving goalkeeper Katie Fraine no chance to record a save and ending Florida's five-game shutout streak.

In a sport where one goal can make all the difference, Miller's strike was enough for the Gamecocks.

Coach Becky Burleigh shifted the team's alignment in the second half, taking a player out of the defensive midfield position and adding a forward. UF played better after halftime and started creating chances, but it was unable to capitalize.

Florida closest shot came in the 48th minute when sophomore Lindsay Thompson took a left-footed shot from 18 yards out that banged off the top crossbar.

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"We played as well in the second half as we did (last week) in Gainesville," coach Becky Burleigh said.

Burliegh has said in the past that teams try to force the tempo when trailing, but she said the team played with good composure even while behind Friday.

Regardless, Florida found itself in a race against the clock late in the game. The team had several opportunities, especially in the last ten minutes when the ball stayed on South Carolina's side of the field for almost the entire time.

But the ball never found South Carolina's net.

With 10 seconds left on the clock, Thompson tracked the ball down on the right side of the box, but her shot went softly out of bounds, effectively ending the game.

Florida's next game will be Friday, although its opponent will not be revealed until Monday night, when the seeding for the NCAA tournament will be announced.

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