Missouri and South Carolina found themselves locked at 1 late in Thursday’s match. The Tigers earned a corner in the 84th minute, and the ball fell to Megan Oduyoye at the top of the box, but her shot was blocked. It fell to Jenna Bartels, who tapped it toward what she surely thought would be the winning goal.
Gamecocks goalkeeper Heather Hinz had other ideas.
She somehow was able to get down and push it away, and the clearance was deflected behind for a goal kick.
Hinz’s save ended up being the crucial moment for the Gamecocks in what would eventually be a 2-1 victory.
Just four minutes later, Ryan Gareis was bombing down the left wing as she had been all night, and she fired a cross in. Tigers center back Ashlyn Mills got a foot in, but it fell straight to Corinna Zullo, who made no mistake. She calmly placed the ball to Sophia Worth’s left from the top of the box, just outside the reach of the outstretched Missouri goalie.
The Gamecocks stole the match from right under the Tigers’ nose.
“(We’re) definitely heartbroken a little bit,” Missouri coach Stefanie Golan said. “We were in it with one of the top teams in the conference for a good portion of the game.”
But Hinz’s save was the dagger. If either side was to win it before extra time, from that point on, it was always going to be South Carolina, which was picked to finish third in the SEC Preseason Coaches Poll.
“We put ourselves in a position where their keeper had to make a great save to keep us from going up 2-1,” Golan said. ... “It’s a hard way to go down.”
For Golan and the Tigers, there are some positives to take from the match. Blythe Beldner’s first goal of the season came from a counterattack that has become synonymous with the Tigers this season. Milena Fischer’s dribbling dragged a defender out of position, and she found Beldner, who placed it into the top corner.
“We’ve got to continue to be a little more dynamic and dangerous on the attacking side,” Golan said.
Catherine Barry’s opening strike off a half-cleared Gareis cross put the Gamecocks up early in the second half.
Missouri’s defense has, again, improved after a poor performance. The Tigers dropped their previous match 7-4 to No. 18 BYU, but they looked much more resolute against South Carolina. Left back Grace Pettet had her “best performance of the year” according to Golan. Missouri, despite being outshot 20-8, mostly reduced the Gamecocks to poor looks and tame efforts that were easily saved by Worth.
“They put in some extra work on some things,” Golan said of her back four. “Many of them did much better this game.”
The Tigers have a week before their next match — a trip to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama. The Crimson Tide are 4-5, most recently losing 3-1 to Ole Miss. They face Utah Valley on Sunday before welcoming Missouri to Alabama Soccer Stadium on Thursday.
“We get a lot of opportunity to train from here to next week,” Golan said. “We’ve got to watch some game film as a staff and see the things we got to continue to clean up.”
Golan said she wants her team to continue working on the transition from defense to attack as the Tigers continue to lineup looking to hit teams on the break. She also said she thinks the defense has room for improvement. The Tigers have been inconsistent in the back throughout the season, putting up two clean sheets but also three games conceding four or more goals.
“I think if we can continue to refine those pieces,” Golan said, “I think we’re gonna compete.”