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2nd goal proves critical as USC fends off Notre Dame in Irish’s first trip to Stone

South Carolina junior forward Luciana Zullo
South Carolina junior forward Luciana Zullo

No. 7 South Carolina kept Notre Dame under assault for much of Thursday night’s women’s soccer game.

The shots finally paid off for the Gamecocks (6-0-0) as Luciana Zullo put in an unassisted goal that would be the difference in a 2-1 victory over the Fighting Irish at Stone Stadium.

Only Alexis Martel-LaMothe’s goal in the 88th minute prevented USC’s fifth-straight shutout of the season.

Notre Dame’s score put a lot of meaning on Zullo’s goal, Gamecocks head coach Shelley Smith said.

“When you go up two it’s a lot more comforting than when you’re clinging to a one-goal lead when they have the threatening players they have,” Smith said. “When you put another goal away you don’t relax, but it does give you a bit of cushion there.”

Thursday marked the first time Notre Dame (6-1) visited Stone field.

“It’s huge,” Smith said about beating the Irish. “We continually try to prove we’ve earned the ranking, we’re representing the SEC, we’re proud of our play against a team like Notre Dame. It’s a great feeling. We have all the respect in the world for that program. (Irish head coach) Nate (Norman) is doing a tremendous job with them and they’re gonna win a lot of games this year.”

A lightning delay of 35 minutes split the first-half action. When play resumed at about the 27-minute mark, Notre Dame kept the pressure on goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski as it had for the whole half, taking five shots on goal that resulted from four corner kicks.

Krzeczowski and the Gamecocks defense stood firm, and when USC had the ball near the Irish’s goal, defender Jade Gosar’s handball set up Anna Patten’s goal kick in the 41st minute. Patten kicked it in cleanly for her second goal of the season.

“You want players that are confident going up to the line,” Smith said. “She put the team on her shoulders again. She did that well on the road. We have a ton of confidence that she’s gonna put it away.”

The Gamecocks pressed the Irish for most of the second half.

Camryn Dixon’s shot at the 52-minute mark drew goalkeeper Mattie Interian toward the right goalpost, but Dixon’s shot went wide left of the goal.

Three minutes later, Elexa Bahr fired a cross from the right side over to Dixon, but again Dixon hit it just wide left.

At the 60-minute mark, Lauren Chang drilled an arcing shot from the right sideline that fell straight into the arms of Interian for the save.

Chang later passed to Ryan Gareis on the left side, but Gareis’ shot rolled softly to Interian at the 61st minute.

Later, Chang’s pass to a wide-open Riley Tanner gave Tanner a 1-on-1 opportunity against in the 79th minute, but her shot went wide left.

Two minutes later, Claire Griffiths and other Gamecocks tried to put the ball in the net at close range. One shot ricocheted off of Interian and back at Zullo, who kicked it in.

“Bianca Galassini worked her tail off to get in the box to try to play a ball across. It eventually got deflected on the goalkeeper,” Zullo said. “We didn’t know we needed it when it happened, but unfortunately we needed it.”

Next: The Gamecocks travel to in-state rival Clemson (5-0-1) at 6 pm Sunday in a game that will also be nationally televised on the ACC Network.

Volleyball takes down Clemson

South Carolina rallied Thursday night for a five-set win at Clemson to run its win streak to four — 25-23, 25-20, 19-25, 22-25, 15-10. The Gamecocks (5-3), powered by 22 kills from senior Mikayla Shields, run their win streak over the Tigers to five matches.

“I’m very proud of them,” head coach Tom Mendoza said. “We talked about being a better road team, so to get any road win — especially against a good Clemson team — is really exciting for us and is something if we want to be successful we’ll need to get better at,” head coach Tom Mendoza said after the match. “It was a great match, a really good show for volleyball in the state of South Carolina, just really glad to come away with the win.”

The five-game win streak for South Carolina over Clemson is the longest since 1989, when the Tigers snapped a streak that had gone six years and spanned 14 wins.

The Gamecocks are 7-2 in five-set matches under Mendoza.

Men’s soccer gets the W

South Carolina men’s soccer earned its third-consecutive overtime victory with a 1-0 shutout of Mercer on Wednesday night at Stone Stadium. Senior Tucker Monheimer’s finish at the 94th minute provided the Gamecocks (3-1) with the winning score.