Vanderbilt soccer opens tournament play with 2-1 victory over Alabama

Hopkins' brace advances Commodores to semifinals against South Carolina

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Vanderbilt soccer opens tournament play with 2-1 victory over Alabama

Vanderbilt Soccer plays against Western Kentucky Thursday, September 6th, 2018.

Vanderbilt Soccer plays against Western Kentucky Thursday, September 6th, 2018.

Emma Stapleton

Vanderbilt Soccer plays against Western Kentucky Thursday, September 6th, 2018.

Emma Stapleton

Emma Stapleton

Vanderbilt Soccer plays against Western Kentucky Thursday, September 6th, 2018.

Will Fritzler, Staff Writer

Vanderbilt soccer began its 2019 postseason with poise, defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 2-1 and advancing to the semifinals of the SEC tournament in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Although the game was relatively even on shots (10-8 Alabama) and possession (52 percent Alabama), the Commodores never appeared to be in danger of losing, with Haley Hopkins scoring in the 13th minute and again in the 75th minute. Alabama would add a goal of their own in the 88th minute, but not in time to salvage a second goal and force overtime.

Vanderbilt earned an automatic berth in the tournament quarterfinals after winning the eastern division on their intradivision record of 4-1-1 and receiving the second overall tournament seed. Seventh-seeded Alabama previously beat in-state rival Auburn 2-1 in the first round on Nov. 3 to advance to play the Commodores.

The Crimson Tide were a familiar foe for Vanderbilt, with the Commodores having defeated them by the same score on Oct. 31 in Tuscaloosa. Like their tournament game, that result featured two Vanderbilt goals before a third by Alabama, but all three goals came in the first half of that game, and Paola Ellis scored the brace.

Vanderbilt wasted little time climbing ahead of Alabama, with a Maddie Elwell corner kick in the 13th minute headed in easily at the center of goal by Hopkins. The rest of the first half was quiet, with both teams combining for three shots and no shots in the final 10 minutes.

Aside from a blocked shot by Hopkins from 15 yards out and a follow-up by Azari on the same play that deflected wide, the Commodores failed to register another shot until their second goal. Neither team seemed comfortable in the attacking third, and most of the game played out in the midfield.

Vanderbilt’s patience was rewarded, however, when what would become the game-winning goal came in the 75th minute. A Taiana Tolleson goal kick reached midfield, Grace Jackson turned it into a through-ball, and the ball fell kindly for Hopkins, who dribbled around her defender and had a breakaway. With only Tide goalkeeper A.J. Crooks to beat, Hopkins dribbled around her to the right at the top of the 18 and took a couple dribbles towards the endline before hitting the open net away from a pursuing Alabama defender.

Alabama gave one back in the 88th minute on a play remarkably similar to Hopkins’ first goal. Just as Elwell had served a right-side corner to the center of goal for the Hopkins header, the Tide’s Serena Pham floated a corner from the same side to defender Nealy Martin, who found good position on the goalline and managed to flick a header past Tolleson at close range.

Third-seeded South Carolina’s 1-0 win over sixth-seeded Georgia immediately after the conclusion of Vanderbilt’s win sets up a matchup between the Commodores and Gamecocks in the tournament semifinals on Nov. 7. South Carolina had the second-highest point total in the conference (24) behind Arkansas (25) and the most of any team in the eastern division. Notably, the Gamecocks were the only SEC team that went undefeated in conference play and the SEC team with the fewest losses, with their only loss of the season coming against Clemson.

Vanderbilt re-entered the Top Drawer ranking at 25 after the win, while South Carolina sits at seven in the same poll. The Commodores remain unranked in the United Soccer Coaches poll, which also has South Carolina at seven.

In their only regular season matchup, the Commodores played South Carolina to a tight 0-0 draw, Vanderbilt’s only draw this season, in Columbia in a game that went the full 110 minutes of double overtime without a winner.

The winner of Thursday’s game, which will air at 6 p.m. CT on SEC Network, will play the winner of five-seed Florida vs. top-seeded Arkansas in the tournament championship game on Sunday, Nov. 10.

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