Bradlee Baladez thought he had wasted South Carolina’s best chance to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA College Cup Soccer Tournament.
The USC freshman received a pass from Stephen Morrissey on a breakaway six minutes into overtime — but his shot sailed wide right.
It took him three minutes to find redemption.
Baladez slipped a shot past the Duke goalkeeper with 59 seconds remaining in the first overtime to lift the Gamecocks to a 1-0 victory against Duke on Sunday afternoon at Stone Stadium.
It was the Gamecocks’ first NCAA tournament win since 1998, and they advance to the third round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993, when they made it to the championship game before losing to Virginia. They next will host Michigan, a 2-1 winner over Florida Atlantic, on Sunday.
“I got a little nervous, because I thought the game was going to be over after that,” Baladez said. “I just had to keep going, and a couple of minutes went by and I saw J.P. (Rafferty) take a run down the line. He told me before the overtime period to make a run to the first post, and he would get it through. And he put it through, and I just beat the keeper for the goal.”
The winning sequence began when Morrissey passed the ball to Rafferty in front of the Gamecocks bench. Rafferty then launched a centering pass to Baladez from about 4 yards out. Baladez, a freshman from Mesquite, Texas, is tied for second on the team with six goals.
“Big players make big plays in big games,” USC coach Mark Berson said. “Often times, two good teams play themselves to a standstill, and somebody makes a play.”
The Blue Devils (10-6-4) eliminated Coastal Carolina in the first round Thursday while South Carolina (13-6-2) received a bye into the second round.
Both teams played physical, combining for 50 fouls called and eight yellow cards. USC’s Will Traynor left the game in the 70th minute to receive stitches in his forehead. He returned before the end of regulation.
Duke played without Ryan Finley — the nation’s leading scorer with 17 goals and 37 points — after the sophomore forward was suspended indefinitely by coach John Kerr for a violation of team rules before the Coastal Carolina game.
That might have played a factor for the Blue Devils, who missed two chances to take the lead in the first half. In the 14th minute, Temi Molinar served the ball into the box, and Chris Tweed-Kent fired a shot from inside 5 yards. USC goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer deflected the shot right then regained his feet and knocked away a follow-up shot by Daniel Tweed-Kent for two of his three first-half saves.
“Their winger beat our outside back and got a good ball, and one of their players got a shot,” Maurer said. “I was able to get a reaction save, but it spilled right into the middle and another guy was crashing in, and I just sprawled out and was lucky enough to make the save.”
Maurer finished with six saves, including another diving stop in overtime on Cole Grossman’s shot from 14 yards out. Grossman also missed a chance in the 87th minute when his header went over an empty net after Maurer made a play on the ball in the box.
“Jimmy’s been an outstanding player for us for four years, so his excellent play today didn’t surprise any of us, me included,” Berson said. “He’s come up with big saves time and time again. We don’t like him to be in the situation, but when he is, we aren’t worried about. He made some incredible saves today.”
South Carolina’s best chances to score in regulation came in the second half.
Chipper Root had a shot stopped by Duke goalkeeper James Belshaw in the first minute of the half. Blake Brettschneider had two opportunities, first on a free kick and then on a break away. But Belshaw made the save on the first one, and the second shot went wide left.
“(USC) played a fantastic game and (were) very competitive,” Kerr said. “Unfortunately, we came out on the wrong side of the score.”