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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Gators advance to SEC Tournament final with win over Auburn

<p>UF forward Savannah Jordan takes a shot during Florida's 2-1 win against LSU on Oct. 11, 2015, at James G. Pressly Stadium.</p>

UF forward Savannah Jordan takes a shot during Florida's 2-1 win against LSU on Oct. 11, 2015, at James G. Pressly Stadium.

A set piece goal — the same event that led to Florida’s demise the first time it met Auburn this season — was what clinched the Gators’ victory over the Tigers on Friday.

The No. 5 Gators defeated No. 19 Auburn 2-0 on Friday to advance to the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Florida controlled the momentum from the start.

After a corner kick in the sixth minute that was played away by the Auburn defense, Florida regained possession and started an attack from their own defensive line.

The ball was played into the midfield to junior Meggie Dougherty Howard, who was fouled just outside of the penalty box to set up a Florida set piece.

Aiming at the wall of defenders in front of her, Christen Westphal took the free kick, sending it underneath Dougherty Howard’s legs and into the bottom-left corner of the goal.

Westphal’s second goal of the season had the Gators up 1-0.

“It’s sort of nice to get those first goals under our belts, and I thought they were really well deserved because we played pretty well in the first half,” coach Becky Burleigh said.

“We really moved the ball well and when we do that we’re really going to generate some scoring chances.”

The Gators didn’t waste time starting more attacks from the backline. In the 14th minute, right back Kristen Cardano sent the ball to forward Savannah Jordan, leading to a shot that just missed over the top of the crossbar.

Jordan broke through Auburn’s defensive line in the 19th minute after midfielder Betsy Middleton played a through ball past two Auburn defenders and sent Jordan on a break towards the goal.

With just one defender to beat, Jordan pushed her way forward and flicked the ball into the back of the net, making the score 2-0.  

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But Auburn didn’t go quietly.

After being out shot in the first half 6-3, Auburn came out after halftime with a new level of pressure and intensity.

The Tigers tallied seven shots in the second half, including one that bounced off the hand of Florida goalie Kaylan Marckese and nearly scored before hitting the post.

Ultimately, Florida was able to avenge its Sept. 27 loss to the Tigers and continue the team’s nine game streak without a loss.

The difference in Friday’s game was the play of freshman goalie Marckese, who started every game since the loss to Auburn and has led the team to three shutouts.

“I always think defending is a team effort,” Burleigh said. “I thought tonight she (Marckese) was great with commanding her area… she really came out and won some balls in the air that I think discouraged them from playing balls in.”

The Gators will take on Texas A&M Sunday at 2 p.m. for the SEC Tournament title. It is the 16th time Florida will play for the SEC title – trying to claim it for the 10th time in program history.

Texas A&M is the only team to beat Florida at home this season, winning 2-1 on Sept. 10.

Follow Ryan Summers on Twitter @RyanSummers18

UF forward Savannah Jordan takes a shot during Florida's 2-1 win against LSU on Oct. 11, 2015, at James G. Pressly Stadium.

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