Espinoza

Goalie Susi Espinoza had five saves, but she couldn’t stop Georgia’s game-winning 89th-minute goal, which cost UF a division title.

All Florida’s soccer team needed was a win or tie in the last fixture of the regular season against Georgia to secure the SEC East title.

The Gators were close to achieving that until their old habit of defensive mistakes reared its head in the 89th minute.

Defender Georgia Eaton-Collins tried forcing a pass near midfield, but it was intercepted by Georgia defender/midfielder Abby Boyan, who found forward Haley Sorrell near the edge of the box.

Sorrell took a touch before nestling the ball into the bottom-right corner to defeat UF 1-0 on Thursday night at the Turner Soccer Complex in Athens, Georgia.

With winds swirling at more than 15 mph, the Gators (10-7-1, 6-3-1 SEC) resorted to a possession-based style of play in the opening minutes.

They kept passes on the ground to avoid the effects of the weather instead of launching them up the field to forwards Vanessa Kara, Madison Alexander and Kit Loferski.

Florida’s game plan did not result in an early goal, but it seemed to wear out Georgia (8-6-4, 4-3-3 SEC), which spent most of the first half running after the ball.

As expected, the lengthy possessions led to more shots for the Gators (6) than the Bulldogs (3) in the first 45 minutes. Yet, both teams headed into the locker room scoreless.

The wind remained a factor in the second half, which was evident by the flailing corner flags, so UGA adopted a similar approach as UF’s in order to spark the offense.

Georgia’s change in strategy almost paid off in the 68th minute after earning a free kick on Florida’s side of the field.

The Bulldogs sent the ball into a scrum of players inside the 18-yard box, but Kara came away with it. Instead of clearing the danger, however, she passed the ball back to UF goalie Susi Espinoza, who was not expecting it.

UGA midfielder Dani Murguia pounced on the errant pass, but luckily for the Gators, Espinoza was quick off her line to force Murguia’s shot wide of the goal.

Kara was subsequently replaced by midfielder Laney Steed and stayed on the bench for the rest of the contest.

Florida’s best chance to open the scoring came in the 80th minute when midfielder Parker Roberts forced Georgia goalie Emory Wegener into a leaping two-handed save.

Nine minutes later, the Bulldogs were celebrating a goal that ultimately gave them their first win against the Gators since 2008.

Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bryan_2712. Contact him at [email protected]

Bryan Matamoros is a sports writer for The Alligator. He has previously covered UF men's and women's golf, women's lacrosse and women's soccer. Now, he is on the Florida baseball and women's basketball beats.