Orange Beach, Ala. - No. 17 South Carolina women's soccer (13-4-1, 6-3-1 SEC) defeated No. 13 Texas A&M (15-4-1, 6-3-1 SEC) 2-1 in the opening round of the 2018 SEC Tournament, avenging its regular-season finale loss to the Aggies just five days ago.
Luciana Zullo scored the gamewinner in the second half to help the Gamecocks advance to the SEC semifinals. South Carolina's win marks the first time that Texas A&M has lost in its opening match of the SEC Tournament.
"I was really proud of the team today," South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. "They really battled, and they came here to play and avenge a loss at home to Texas A&M. We were able to turn it around and play better in the second half and got a goal early to take the lead and were able to close it out, which was something we had struggled with at the end of the regular season."
After falling behind in the opening half for the first time this season, the Gamecocks took just 1:03 to respond. Senior Simone Wark drew a foul in the box to set up sophomore Lauren Chang to nail a penalty kick to knot the score at one.
The goal for Chang is the seventh of the season and her third penalty kick goal. She now leads the Gamecocks in points with 16.
In the second half, South Carolina came out with an intense energy. The Gamecocks earned three shots and three corner kicks in the first six minutes of action, eventually leading to the gamewinner from Zullo. Both of Zullo's goals this season have been game-winning goals.
After battling the ball away from an Aggie defender, Wark was able to send a pass to Zullo near the top of the box. The sophomore settled the ball and sent a strike to the left side of the net for her second goal of the season.
"It was a great team win," Zullo said after the match. "We fought the whole 90 minutes. We came out in the first half and didn't play the soccer we wanted to but came out in the second half as a completely different team. This win does mean a lot."
The assist for Wark moves her into a tie for seventh-most points scored in a career at the SEC Tournament in South Carolina history.
The Gamecocks' defense was able to keep enough dangerous chances from the Aggies away, holding Texas A&M to just two shots on goal. Rebecca Koch, Wark and Chang led the Gamecocks offensively with two shots each. South Carolina held the edge in shots on goal with four of its nine on frame.
LSU will be South Carolina's next opponent after the Tigers upset No. 2 seed Tennessee earlier on Tuesday on penalty kicks. The Gamecocks played the Tigers just nine days ago, losing by a score of 2-1 in double overtime. The semifinal match can be seen on the SEC Network on Thu., Nov. 1, at 7:00 p.m. ET.
"We'll learn from our mistakes we made against LSU," Smith said. "We are glad to be here at a neutralsite, and they will be a little tired after going to overtime again today and have played two matches already. Depth is key, especially to get through the postseason."