The streak stayed intact, although the championship will have to wait at least one more match.
Second-ranked South Carolina outlasted Vanderbilt 2-1 in overtime on Thursday, remaining one game in front of the rest of the SEC with two games to play. They were unable to clinch a share of the SEC regular-season championship after Auburn beat LSU to remain a game back in the standings, but if USC beats Tennessee on Sunday, the Gamecocks will clinch the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament and a piece of the title.
An undisputed regular-season championship could then be had by beating Ole Miss in the finale. But that, like every game USC has approached in its still-unbeaten season, is in the distance.
“That’s a big credit to the team to find a way,” coach Shelley Smith said. “They pulled it together – that’s what they’ve done all year.”
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Thursday’s hurdle was the Commodores on a soggy field. After USC allowed the tying goal with two seconds to go in regulation, Daija Griffin found herself one-on-one with Vanderbilt goalie Lauren Demarchi with 2:08 to go in overtime. She smacked the shot past her for the Gamecocks’ second straight overtime win.
“I saw Sophie (Groff) dribbling down and I saw that there was a little opening for her to slide the ball right to me and I just made that angle run and the defender didn’t follow me,” Griffin said. “I honestly wasn’t thinking when I got the ball. I saw the goalie from a little angle of my eye and I realized she was still in the net, so I just decided to place it in the corner, and it went in.”
The golden goal tied USC’s program-high in SEC wins (nine) and improved the Gamecocks to 15-0-1. They are the only major undefeated team in the country.
Paige Bendell headed in a corner assist from Chelsea Drennan 48 seconds into the game, the second-quickest goal in USC history. That was nearly enough as the Commodores couldn’t crack the Gamecocks’ back-line defense until the final minute.
USC nearly made it 2-0 but lost contain as Vanderbilt headed downfield with 10 seconds to go. As the PA announcer counted off the final seconds, Kaylann Boyd rifled a shot to goal.
Goalie Mikayla Krzeczowski stopped it, but couldn’t cover it, and the ball caromed to Sydney O’Donnell, who had a wide-open net and a sprawled goalie. She kicked it in to set up overtime.
“That never should have come to that, and the team knows that,” Smith said. “We’ll learn from it and we’ll be that much better as a team come Sunday.”
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