Avenging a regular season loss, the South Carolina men’s soccer team topped Mercer when it mattered most – in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Gamecocks (11-8-1) beat the Bears 1-0 in a strong defensive outing for both teams Thursday at Stone Stadium.
“This was a really close, hard-fought game as the NCAA Tournament games are,” head coach Mark Berson said. “We didn’t get off to a good start in the match, but then we found our footing a little bit.”
Senior forward Kevin Walker got the Gamecocks on the board first off a free kick from senior midfielder Danny Deakin and an assist from sophomore Andre Streete. His goal came in the 38th minute and was the first shot of the match for USC.
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Midfielders Koty Millard and Julian Veen Uldal were both injured during play and had to leave the match. Berson said he was impressed with the way his players stepped up in their absence.
“I can’t tell you anybody that we put into this match that didn’t rise to the occasion,” Berson said.
Following Walker’s goal in the first half, the Gamecocks tallied four more shots, but junior goalkeeper William Pyle was the key factor in securing the shutout with four saves.
“You need a goalkeeper to do that during the NCAA Tournament to advance,” Berson said. “You have to get one or two big saves a game for your goalkeeper to be able to keep you in a little bit of a tournament run. We know we can count on Will to do that.”
Mercer registered nine shots against the Gamecocks and came close to tying the match in the 71st minute. Bears’ junior forward Will Bagrou snuck a shot past Pyle, but senior defender Matt McManis was behind him to save the ball from crossing the goal line.
“Matt just comes out of nowhere a lot of the time,” Pyle said. “We see it in the film. He just jumps out of there and he’ll cover other people’s jobs. He did it today and he will probably do it again next game.”
With this win, South Carolina will advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and will play No. 3-seed Clemson (12-3-5) at Riggs Field on Sunday. The Gamecocks suffered a 2-1 loss to Clemson in the regular season and are looking forward to the rematch.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better matchup,” senior midfielder Kurtis Turner said. “We’re really excited to play them again and get our revenge.”
NCAA men’s soccer tournament Second round
Who: USC vs. Clemson
When: 6 p.m., Sunday
Where: Riggs Field, Clemson