Facing a South Carolina (10-1-0, 4-0-0 SEC) team that is ranked No. 7 in the country, it always seemed like it would be an uphill battle for Missouri (6-5-1, 0-3-1 SEC).
The Tigers seemed to be unfazed by the caliber of opponent, though, as they battled throughout the game and surrendered only one goal just ahead of the hour mark. Coach Bryan Blitz credits that to the team’s mentality of treating each opponent the same way.
“We need to play everybody as a faceless opponent, a nameless opponent, and when we do that I think we can be successful,” Blitz said.
The Tigers were also without their starting goalkeeper, redshirt sophomore Peyton Bauman, and Blitz said she could be out for a while with flu-like symptoms.
“She got this bad freaky virus,” Blitz said. “She actually had it Sunday and we didn’t even know … she had these flu-like [symptoms] and then she got antibiotics so she’s out for a while. I don’t know if she’ll be back next week.”
With Bauman out, Missouri had to turn to freshman McKenna Sheehan, whose only previous experience had been a 19 minute stretch at the end of the Georgia game Sunday where she was subbed on after Bauman allowed three goals. In those 19 minutes, Sheehan gave up two goals but also managed to make two saves. After Friday’s game, the freshman mentioned how those minutes proved valuable in helping her prepare for the matchup against the Gamecocks.
“I kind of got my feet wet and was able to see what it was like,” Sheehan said. “Even though it was a short amount of time, that experience really helped.”
Throughout the game, Sheehan came up with several saves to keep Missouri in the game, including three big saves in the first half to keep the score level. On all three shots, Sheehan showed her range to get down to her left and right to keep out well placed shots.
The first chance for South Carolina came in the 16th minute when redshirt freshman Samantha Chang picked up the ball just inside the box following a well worked short corner by South Carolina. Chang found herself with space and ripped a shot on net, but Sheehan was able to make the save.
The Gamecocks would again get a chance in the 23rd minute with senior Tatumn Milazzo providing the final touch this time. Some nice combination play down the right wing allowed Milazzo to find space just outside of the 18-yard box, but once again her dipping shot was kept out by a diving Sheehan to keep South Carolina scoreless.
The final save of the first half for Sheehan came in the 44th minute when junior Lauren Chang, whose four goals are the joint most on South Carolina, fired in a shot, but once again Sheehan was up to the task.
Throughout the first half, Missouri looked solid defensively, and it looked more willing to sit back defensively and try to hit out on the counter rather than press forward defensively as the Tigers typically have done under Blitz.
“I think [sitting back defensively] frustrated them and obviously it worked,” Blitz said. “Once they scored then we had to kind of go for it. It’s a good thing that we’ll look for and see if we need it moving forward.”
In the second half, it was the Tigers who got the first real opportunity. In the 54th minute, following a defensive clearance, redshirt sophomore Zoe Cross and freshman Jadyn Easley tried to catch South Carolina out by moving quickly up the right side of the field. They managed to get deep into the Gamecock half and squared the ball across the box to sophomore Julissa Cisneros, who had made an unmarked run up the left flank. Cisneros’ shot sailed over the bar though as she went for the one-touch finish despite having plenty of time and space to set herself.
Just minutes later, the Gamecocks finally found a breakthrough with junior Luciana Zullo beating her marker to the back post for the easy tap in on a cross from junior Ryan Gareis in the 58th minute. After allowing five goals to Georgia on Sunday, though, Blitz was very complimentary of the way his defense managed to bounce back and refocus against a strong South Carolina team.
“After Georgia, I think our defense, they have a lot of pride, and they worked all week and I think it showed,” Blitz said. “We wanted to fight for each other and I think we did that.”
After the South Carolina goal, the game opened up a bit with Missouri being forced to come out of its defensive shell to press for an equalizer. South Carolina almost found a second goal in the 75th minute when Lauren Chang curled a free kick towards the back post that came off the upper left corner of the goal frame, but otherwise, neither team was able to establish control over the game for the final half hour.
The Tigers still remain winless in SEC play, but Blitz was happy that they managed to get back on track after their bad loss to Georgia over the weekend.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better in their response,” Blitz said. “They were not proud … we knew that wasn’t our team … so we just said all week we need to make sure that we show people in the stands … that we’re going to fight.”
Edited by Wilson Moore | firstname.lastname@example.org