In the final regular season game of the year South Carolina women’s soccer defeated Missouri 2-0 at home. Before the match, the Gamecocks’ seniors were recognized on the field for their contributions to the program over the years.
With the victory, South Carolina becomes the SEC East champions and secures the No. 2 seed in the upcoming SEC tournament. Fifth-year midfielder Claire Griffiths put the exclamation point on the win in what might have been her final game at Stone Stadium.
“I was really emotional, I mean, I’ve played many, many games here and so to be putting the jersey on and playing in Stone in front of these fans and the Graveyard Shift and everything it was really, really emotional,” Griffiths said. “I knew what this game meant and so I’m at a loss for words really. I think winning the east just put the final touch on my career here in this stadium.”
Both teams took time to settle into the Thursday night game in the first half with much of the competition happening in midfield. The home team was able to establish a rhythm during a 15-minute first half stretch where the Tigers’ defense was repeatedly tested.
Missouri recovered and created opportunities of its own before halftime, but neither team was able to break the deadlock. The Gamecocks went into halftime with a narrow, 7-5, shot advantage and earned five corner kicks in the opening period without conceding one to the visitors.
“I think the first half, we waited a bit for things rather than create and even though we had a lot of possession, we looked like we were going to score, we just weren’t quite there. I thought in the second half we were more on the front foot, and we were rewarded with some goals,” head coach Shelley Smith said.
South Carolina wasted no time after the break, scoring just over five minutes in after the restart. Sophomore midfielder Payton Patrick tucked her shot into the bottom right corner to open the game’s scoring with junior forward Corinna Zullo earning the assist from a well-timed pass into the middle of the box.
Minutes later, the home crowd roared once again in response to a powerful shot from outside the box by Griffiths, her third goal of the season. Griffiths’ instinctual finish on the goal to double the lead came in the 55th minute.
“Honestly, I blacked out. The ball just came out to me, and I think I just took a touch, and I was like ‘well, you know, why not?’ And I mean it went in, I think it’s shocking every time,” Griffiths said with a laugh.
Senior goalkeeper Heather Hinz finished with six saves, including a pair of diving stops to keep the Tigers off the board, on the way to her 10th clean sheet of the season.
The Gamecocks finished with an 11 to eight total shot advantage and while both teams had six shots on target on the night, South Carolina was able to find the better opportunities and convert.
The veteran student-athletes who were honored pregame once again played a key role for South Carolina. Griffiths’ goal and Hinz’s clean sheet are highlights on the score sheet, but defenders fifth-year Jyllissa Harris and senior Camryn Dixon both played the full 90 minutes and helped stifle the Tigers’ attack, and the midfield pairing of senior Riane Coman and redshirt senior Samantha Chang connected play in the middle of the pitch all game.
“Senior classes are always very special, and they’ve put in the years here. They grow as people and players in the program, they learn a lot, they give us a lot. They mean a lot to the program,” Smith said.
South Carolina (11-3-4) now turns its focus to post-season play with the SEC tournament in Pensacola, Florida, where those seniors will have the opportunity to extend their season and improve the team’s case for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Editor's note: Camryn Dixon is the assistant sports editor for The Daily Gamecock.