COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Freshman forward Luciana Zullo tallied a goal in the 39th minute to lift top-seeded South Carolina women's soccer to a 1-0 victory over Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night at Stone Stadium. The Gamecocks punched the program's fourth ticket to the NCAA Sweet 16 and improved to 17-2-1 on the year with the win over the Badgers.
Friday's contest featured a defensive battle for much of the match, as the two teams combined for just 15 shots. The Gamecocks put four of their eight attempts on frame, while the Badgers finished with seven shots on the night.
Zullo, who attempted both of Carolina's two shots in the first half, notched the decisive goal after collecting a pass near the right side. The Flemington, N.J., native raced towards the center of the box and used her quickness to create some space before firing the ball inside the right post on a shot from 18 yards out. The goal marked the fifth tally of the season for the first-year attacker.
Carolina pressed for more in the second half and created several scoring chances midway through the period. A great through ball resulted in a chance for Gamecock senior striker Savannah McCaskill in the 61st minute. The Chapin, S.C., native gathered the pass and charged towards the heart of the box, where Wisconsin goalkeeper Caitlyn Clem rushed off her line to quickly block the attempt from McCaskill. Four minutes later, McCaskill saw another opportunity after a foul from Clem handed Carolina a free kick from 15 yards out. McCaskill took aim at net and ripped a shot that deflected out of bounds after hitting off a Badger defender.
The Gamecocks remained relentless, and freshman defender Sarah Eskew nearly made it 2-0 in the 66th minute when she one-timed a shot off a cross that sent the ball wide right. McCaskill attempted another short free kick four minutes later, rifling a shot that hit off the left post.
Carolina's defense stood tall Friday against a Wisconsin squad that spent considerable time in its attacking third. The Gamecock backline limited the Badgers to just two attempts on target, while sophomore goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski stifled several chances throughout the contest. The second-year keeper came off her line in the 10th minute to knock away a dangerous cross from the right side, and she broke up two scoring chances in the 59th minute after the Badgers were awarded a corner kick.
McCaskill and Zullo each totaled two attempts on frame in the win, while Wisconsin forward Dani Rhodes accounted for both of her team's shots on goal. Friday marked the first meeting between the two schools, who combined for nine corner kicks in the match.
"We're happy to be sitting here after a win tonight. What a game. That's what you expect in the NCAA Tournament, that kind of matchup. I want to congratulate Wisconsin on the battle and all they've done this year. Someone had to win tonight, and someone had to finish their season. That's the tough part of this tournament. It's a great feeling for us to be on the winning side, like I said they are a great team and I feel fortunate to be moving on. I'm proud of what our team did tonight to find a way to win and am excited for Sunday. This season, the freshman helped us from the start and they've just continued to grow as players and we are a better team now than we were. A huge credit to the players who returned and were able to get these freshman ready." - South Carolina women's soccer coach Shelley Smith