The South Carolina women's soccer team advanced to NCAA tournament quarterfinals for the first time in the program's 20-year history with a 1-0 victory over North Carolina Sunday at Fetzer Field.
Playing without All-American senior goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo, whose injured wrist kept her out of the net for the second straight match, and All-SEC center back Taylor Leach, who was suspended for getting a pair of yellow cards in the previous game against Seattle, the No. 18 Gamecocks (14-5-5) knocked off the No. 6 Tar Heels (14-4-2), who have 33 straight Sweet 16 appearances with 21 national championships.
In only their second appearance in the Sweet 16, the Gamecocks rode the first-half goal of junior forward Raina Johnson and the goalkeeping of freshman Abbey Crider, who posted three saves in collecting her second consecutive shutout.
South Carolina advances to the Elite Eight to play No. 2 Florida State (21-1-1), which beat UCF 1-0 to advance, in Tallahassee Friday at 2 p.m. To get there, the Gamecocks had to beat the Tar Heels, the ACC co-champions with FSU this season.
In the 23rd minute, USC found the back of the net for the first time in this year's NCAA tournament and for the first time in 366 minutes of play since the SEC tournament quarterfinals. Johnson's shot from 20 yards hit the right post, and UNC goalkeeper Bryane Haeberlin looked like she might have a play. But the ball got past her for the 1-0 lead that the Gamecocks would make stand.
“When Lindsey (Lane) gave me the ball, there was space to go forward,” Johnson said. “The second defender didn’t step hard to me. That’s why I took the shot – it was wide open.”
USC coach Shelley Smith was thrilled to see the ball bound off the post in the right direction to finally get that postseason goal.
“You need a bounce here and there to go your way in these games, and we got that one,” Smith said.
A strong defensive effort kept the Tar Heels from scoring the equalizer. Sophomore Paige Bendell took Leach's spot on the back line in front of Crider.
Needing a score to keep the season alive, North Carolina turned up the pressure and unleashed five of its six second-half shots in the final 15 minutes of play. In the final two minutes, USC faced a battery of shots. The Gamecock defense deflected the first two, but UNC's Joanna Boyles settled a rebound and nearly evened the match with just 37 seconds to go. Boyles spun a shot that Crider stopped with her chest to preserve the shutout and send the team to the next round.
“Luckily, it hit me in the stomach, and with the spin on it, it bounced right back to me," Crider said.
The Gamecocks, who finished fifth in the SEC regular season, have posted shutouts in the three NCAA tournament games against Clemson, Seattle and UNC.
“We’ve got to give South Carolina full credit,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance said. “They came out in the first half and just outplayed us. They played with more passion, more confidence. ... They were missing their All-SEC goalkeeper and All-SEC center back. And they still shut us out. That’s a credit to their entire roster.”