The Vanderbilt Commodores experienced a gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to No. 2 South Carolina in overtime just minutes after Vanderbilt freshman Sydney O’Donnell lifted their spirits by leveling the score in the final two seconds.
Vanderbilt predictably had a difficult time starting out on a strong foot, and a defender’s slip on the rainy pitch gave USC the chance to press early. Just seconds into the match, USC defender Paige Bendell headed the ball past Vanderbilt goalkeeper Lauren DeMarchi to give the visitors an early 1-0 lead.
Responding to the pressure of being a goal down, the next several minutes saw some simple mistakes from the home side, such as failing to get behind the ball or sending a weak pass, but the Vanderbilt ladies recovered from the shock. USC began the game with an imposing air, seemingly muscling their way up from the back in search of another opportunity.
Throughout the match the away side looked strong, winning most balls out of the air, taking more shots and possessing more in the first half of the game with fewer touches in between passes. That’s not to say Vanderbilt didn’t fight, however, as it gained steam throughout the first half and, for a period, limited most of the action to the middle third of the pitch.
After the break, Vanderbilt emerged onto the pitch ready to fight until the very last second. The ‘Dores had more shots this half than the last and looked surer on the ball, coming out hard against a tough USC back line and forcing them to reorganize and play more defensively.
More evident than anything was Vanderbilt’s thirst to score. Its number of runs, possession and touches in the attacking third all increased. At times, their desperation could be felt, such as when freshman forward Kaylann Boyd took a shot from 20 yards out rather than sending it to teammates on either side who had rushed forward to support her. However, with the way they were holding their own against a very strong South Carolina side, they can hardly be blamed for wanting a chance to come back.
South Carolina turned up the heat in the last 10 minutes, sensing Vanderbilt’s will to score, but the home team’s hard work paid off when, with less than 10 seconds to go, Boyd fired off a shot at USC goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski. The freshman keeper punched the shot in the direction of O’Donnell, who needed only one touch to equalize with two seconds on the clock. When the whistle blew, the score was 1-1, sending the game into overtime.
Going into overtime, the Vanderbilt women had a clear mission: Get the ball behind the outside backs, where the forwards could run onto it and seal a victory.
“In the break, we said we had to get the ball behind the outside backs, and against the wind, that’s a tough task,” Ambrose said after the game.
The home side came out hard in the first minute of overtime, but USC gained and held onto most of the possession until six minutes in, when Gamecock senior Daija Griffin scored the winning goal.
However, the Vanderbilt women still managed to clinch a spot in the SEC tournament following LSU’s loss to Auburn, making this their second straight appearance in the tournament under Ambrose’s leadership.