In a disappointing season for UF full of external skepticism, injuries, quarantines and close losses, head coach Becky Burleigh maintained one thing: her team doesn’t give up.
DeAnne Rose, a player who personifies the tremendous talent and hard-knock luck on this year’s Florida roster, persevered through the most dire straits Friday night.
With the Gators trailing 3-1 at the half, Rose badgered the Kentucky backline, creating turnovers, shots and a sense of belief out of the locker room.
After a second-half flourish forced overtime at 5-5, Rose drove relentlessly into the UK penalty area, reaching the byline and squaring the ball to Cassidy Lindley for a game-winning tap-in, sending the Gators to the second round of the SEC tournament and the bench into delirium.
Florida started the match just as brightly, lining up in a 4-4-2 shape with Parker Roberts remaining in the midfield.After scoring in her first-career start against Missouri last week, Alivia Gonzalez got the nod against Kentucky, playing as a second striker.
She played a fundamental role in Florida’s opening goal as well, gaining possession in the midfield and releasing Cassidy Lindley down the right flank. Lindley’s cross was partially cleared, but Parker Roberts made a late run into the box and powered her shot into the top corner, giving Florida a 23rd minute lead.
However, costly errors from UF’s defense allowed UK to score a three-minute triad of goals.
Kentucky’s equalizer came in the 25th minute as Hannah Richardson dispossessed Georgia Eaton-Collins after a sloppy touch and played a thorough ball to Jordyn Rhodes. Rhodes slotted a composed finish past Espinoza for an immediate Kentucky response.
The Wildcats would go in front just 34 seconds later, as Ulfa Ulfarsdottir turned her defender and hit a 30-yard, knuckling shot that trickled underneath Espinoza’s left mit far too easily.
Eaton-Collins was at fault again for Kentucky‘s third goal, gifting the Wildcats a penalty after her errant arm struck a cross. Rhodes sent Espinoza the wrong way, doubling UK’s advantage.
Burleigh’s halftime plea for energy reverberated from the bench to Florida’s strikers, as UF assumed the front foot out of the locker room, taking 6 shots in the first ten minutes.
After a Lindley breakaway was foiled and Madison Alexander rattled the crossbar from distance, Lindley opened the second-half scoring in the 62nd minute. She found space on a throw in and ran at the UK backline before firing a right-footed shot too hard for UK keeper Brooke Litmann to handle.
Laney Steed knotted up the game with a beautifully-struck 68th minute equalizer. After Florida’s third corner of the match was cleared off of the line, Steed lashed through the ball with the outside of her right boot, clanging her strike in off the far post and rooting Litmann to the spot.
Florida continued to probe for an equalizer until UK defender Caroline Trout made a clumsy challenge, going through the back of Alivia Gonzalez in the box and conceding a penalty kick. DeAnne Rose stepped up and placed her spot kick past the outstretched arms of Littman, restoring Florida’s lead with fifteen minutes remaining in regulation.
In a rare second-half attack for the Wildcats, Jordan Richardson dribbled to the top of the penalty area and fired a perfectly-placed shot that beat Espinoza at her near post, scoring against the run of play in the 83rd minute and tying the game at four.
Just one minute later, Kentucky completely flipped the script as Jordyn Rhodes found a gap in Florida zonal marking and headed home a close-range effort. The sophomore striker completed her hat trick and gave her side a lead with six minutes left.
As the clock ticked down below two minutes and UF’s incredible comeback seemed to be in vain, DeAnne Rose created space down the right side and served an inch-perfect cross to Parker Roberts, who rippled the net with a bullet header. Overtime.
Just five minutes into the first overtime period Rose and Lindley linked up for the winner, ensuring that the Gators will keep dancing on the beach for another night.
Florida’s win on Friday was a complete team effort, as four players had direct-goal contributions and 17 players spent at least 10 minutes on the pitch.
UF returns to action on action on Sunday, playing another familiar side in Missouri. The Tigers beat a resting UF squad 5-2 last weekend in both teams’ final regular season game.
Kick-off is at 8:30 p.m. following the Auburn-Georgia matchup on the SEC Network.
Contact Declan Walsh at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dawalsh_UF.