With two of the best collegiate goalkeepers on the field Friday night at Stone Stadium, it’s no surprise South Carolina’s first-round NCAA tournament game against rival Clemson went scoreless through 90 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods.
But it was USC senior goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo who made a pair of saves in the penalty-kick shootout while Clemson sophomore goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan couldn’t make a stop that allowed the Gamecocks to come away with a 4-3 advantage after the 0-0 tie and advance to the tournament’s second round for the fifth time.
The No. 18 Gamecocks (13-5-4), who are making their seventh appearance in the tournament over the past eight seasons, will face Seattle (15-4-2), which defeated Washington State 2-1 in double overtime, next Friday in Chapel Hill, N.C. The No. 22 Tigers (13-3-3) see their season end after making the tournament for the first time since 2007.
D’Angelo, who made All-SEC first team, and Sheridan, who made All-ACC first team, both hail from Canada – D’Angelo. from Welland, Ontario, and Sheridan from Whitby, Ontario. Heading into the match, they ranked in the Top 20 in NCAA Division I in goals-against average. Sheridan won the regular-season duel in Clemson’s 1-0 victory against USC on Sept. 5.
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“With two ranked teams, it was going to be a battle, and that’s what it was tonight,” USC coach Shelley Smith said. “Luckily, we put the ball in the net one more time than they did in the PKs, and that’s what we needed. Sabrina, obviously, came up with huge saves for us, which was fitting for this team. She’s been tremendous for her entire career and really a mainstay in goal. What a great way to finish her career here at Stone Stadium.”
USC made all four of its shots in the best-of-five and didn’t need to take a fifth shot after D’Angelo made saves on shots by Clemson’s Claire Wagner and Gabby Byorth. USC’s Sophie Groff, Andie Romness, Lindsey Lane and Bay Daniel got well-placed shots past Sheridan. Daniel, a junior forward, made the shot that provided the difference.
“Credit Bay and all the shooters that stepped up there,” Smith. “They wanted to put the team on their shoulders, and that’s a huge moment. Those are the kind of moments you’re going to rely on as you move forward.”
D’Angelo, a four-time All-SEC performer and first-team All-American as a junior, got her stops on Clemson’s third and fifth shots to clinch the result. After letting a goal slip through in the early-season loss to Clemson, she was determined to come through for her teammates this time.
“The team has saved my butt a lot of times, and it was my turn to come up big for them,” D’Angelo said.
Smith had no doubt the right person was standing in the net for the Gamecocks.
“You know you can trust a goalkeeper who wants to put that on her shoulders,” Smith said.
The intense finish came after 110 minutes in which there were eight shots, five by USC and three by Clemson. The defenses held strong throughout the match and kept the other side from mounting consistent attacks. Clemson coach Eddie Radwanski called it a stalemate, citing the equal strength of the two teams and the nerves and anticipation of rivals squaring off in such an important match.
“When you put two good teams together like that, sometimes you just kind of neutralize each other,” Radwanski said. “A lot of that was going on, and it was hard for either team to get a rhythm.”
Despite the loss, he was pleased with Clemson’s progress this season, highlighted by not allowing a goal in 200 minutes of play in Columbia. He understands the fickle nature of a shootout.
“The reality is, if you get into a shootout penalty kick, it is a little bit of a flip of a coin. For South Carolina, it went their way,” Radwanski said. “...To come down here and post two shutouts is impressive against a good team, and that’s a good team we played.”
The goalkeepers have trained together at times over the years while playing for their respective age-group Canadian national teams. Both spoke of their respect for the other but noted the USC-Clemson rivalry has added a little more of an edge to the relationship.
“We’re goalkeepers. We get in the net, and we save shots,” Sheridan said. “We help our teams out. At the end of the day, that’s what we have to do.”
On this night, D’Angelo saved the two shots that allowed her team to advance.