After completing an undefeated regular season, the No. 3-ranked South Carolina women’s soccer team was eliminated by No. 5-ranked North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.
The Tar Heels (17-3-4) secured a trip to the semifinals with a 1-0 victory over the Gamecocks (21-2-1) at Stone Stadium on Friday night.
“We battled and the ball just didn’t go our way tonight” coach Shelley Smith said. “We’re all sad at this moment. It hurts. But like we talked about at the end of the game, we can’t be more proud of what this team has done all year and how they left the field tonight. They have nothing to hang their heads on.”
Freshman forward Madison Schultz scored first for the Tar Heels and spoiled USC’s tournament shutout streak by floating a shot past goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski in the 21st minute. The Gamecocks said they believed there was a handball on the play, which caused some initial confusion on defense. But Schultz said she was trying to initiate the ball with her body to set up the shot.
“Pretty much, it was an initial movement to defend the ball and just kind of bulldoze our way up top, so I was able to get hit with it. Then, Annie (Kingman) gave me the ball to the left. I mean, truly I was probably just crossing it, wasn’t shooting it and mishit it,” Schultz said.
Despite the Gamecocks’ six shots on goal in the first half, the Tar Heels were able to hold their 1-0 lead into halftime by keeping the majority of play at midfield.
In the second half, the Gamecocks had a chance to equalize when junior forward Savannah McCaskill was tripped by UNC’s Julia Ashley and awarded a penalty kick. Senior forward Sophie Groff took the penalty kick, but Lindsey Harris dove towards the rolling ball and sent it just right of the goal line.
“We don’t say ‘Hey you, take the kick. Players on the field have to make that decision and step up to the line,” Smith said. “The keeper did a tremendous job to read it and made a great save. At the end of the day, she came up with a great play and at this point in the tournament, you need big plays to move on.”
The Gamecocks outshot the Tar Heels 16-14 and led in shots on goal with nine compared to UNC’s seven, but were unable to capitalize on their opportunities.
“We had our chances and at the end of the day, we have to be proud of what we did tonight and what we did this season,” McCaskill said. “It may suck right now, but we have a lot to hang our hat on and be proud of.”
North Carolina advances to play the winner of No. 1 seed West Virginia vs. third-seed Duke in the NCAA Tournament Final Four on Dec. 2.