That’s the best way to describe the South Carolina women’s soccer team’s 5-0 win against Furman in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday night at Stone Stadium.
The Gamecocks’ flawless performance, which included a single-game season high in goals, also upped their home record this season to 11-0, the best mark in the program’s 19 seasons.
“We moved the ball very well and didn’t let them catch up to it a lot of times,” USC coach Shelley Smith said. “To be able to put away the chances in the few shots we had, for a great percentage, was tremendous. There were things we did tonight that were better than we’ve done all season.”
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USC, which also won first-round tournament games during three consecutive trips from 2009-11, never looked back after taking a 4-0 halftime team, keyed by a pair of goals by sophomore forward Coryn Bajema.
“It’s easier when they’re putting balls in the back of the net. It takes a little bit of the stress off,” USC junior goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo said. “I have all the faith in my team that they were going to score, and they did tonight.”
The Gamecocks (17-3-2), who are playing in the tournament for the sixth time in seven seasons, advance to play the winner of the match between Stanford and Cal State Fullerton in reaching the round of 32.
“I’m excited to see where the team can go,” Bajema said.
Smith is well aware the road forward will get more difficult.
“We know what we faced in the SEC, and the things — if you slack off — that you’ll be punished for,” Smith said. “The next rounds just get harder and harder, so we’re going to make sure we’re as sharp as we were tonight, but even a bit better than we were.”
The win improves the Gamecocks’ record in NCAA tournament play to 5-5-1, including a 4-1 record in games played at Stone Stadium, with all four of those wins being shutouts.
D’Angelo posted her 12th shutout of the season against a team that had posted 55 goals in its first 22 matches. The SEC defensive player of the year kept the Paladins at bay with her usual stellar play.
“Sabrina has to always be focused and expecting that, and she did that tonight. She was ready to earn a shutout,” Smith said.
Furman (17-4-2), the Southern Conference champion, saw its season end after reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. Coach Andrew Burr noted that his team was somewhat overwhelmed at the start and couldn’t regain its confidence after the early barrage, but he saluted the No. 14 Gamecocks.
“They’re ranked in the Top 20 for a reason. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re physical,” Burr said. “We’ll play multiple ACC and SEC schools during the year, but the pace is quick, and the speed of play is quick. (Assistant coach) Jamie (Smith) and Shelley have done a great job with the program. They’re what we thought they’d be coming into it.”
The Gamecocks scored 14 minutes into the match when Taylor Leach headed a ball off a corner kick that glanced off a Furman defender into the net. They scored less than five minutes later with Raina Johnson maneuvering her way around a defender off a long ball by D’Angelo and flipping it past charging goalkeeper Rose Hull. Johnson’s team-leading 10th goal gave USC a 2-0 lead and deflated Furman.
Bajema helped double that lead before the half ended, scoring one goal on a header and the next one on a left-footed shot that found its way into the corner of the net on the far post.
“I thanked them at halftime for the lead. It was more comforting than normal,” Smith said. “At the same time, we had to take care of business in the second half. It’s never over, and we know that.”
Drennan’s two assists gave her 12 on the season, the second-most in school history. The freshman midfielder looks forward to advancing in her first trip to the NCAA tournament, which she hopes will end with a national title.
“Keeping that in mind as our end goal, we just keep pushing for that,” Drennan said.
Smith, whose team lost second-round games in 2010 and 2011, believes this group can keep pushing ahead.
“We’re glad to give ourselves a chance to extend it and play for a national championship,” she said. “This team has worked so hard all year. The goals you saw tonight were because of that hard work and determination. They wanted to make sure they came in here and played their best at home.”