Elexa Bahr woke up Thursday morning knowing she was going to score. It was her last regular season game at Stone Stadium and the senior was going to make it count.
She did just that in the 17th minute, scoring the eventual game-winning goal for No. 8 South Carolina (12-1-2, 6-0-2 SEC) in the team’s 2-0 win over Ole Miss (8-5-3, 2-3-3 SEC). Bahr’s goal, her fifth of the season, which was complemented by a second-half goal from Claire Griffiths and a sensational save from Mikayla Krzeczowski, was the difference maker.
“Mik had a great save that kept us in the game, on a tremendous shot, and that’s the difference maker right there,” South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. “And then Elexa, scoring a goal, she could have had another, continuing to push the pace.
“They’ve stepped up and played great all season. It was very fitting on Senior Night they did their jobs.”
Bahr’s goal was a beauty.
Streaking toward the left side of the 18-yard box, Bahr split Rebels’ center backs Madison Smith and Sophie Deineen, took a beautiful through ball from Lauren Chang and fired her first touch into the bottom left corner of the net.
“For every senior, we can all say we want to leave something, a legacy here. I guess that’s my legacy, scoring goals,” said Bahr, who has 17 in her career.
Ten minutes later, the Rebels were inches from equalizing.
Rebel midfielder Molly Martin fired a shot from the top of the box that Krzeczowski just got her left hand on to deflect it off the post and out. The Gamecocks were able to clear the ball. The save was the hardest one on the night for Krzeczowski, who earned her 43rd career shutout.
“Top quality save,” Gamecock defender Grace Fisk said. “That’s what we need her for. She doesn’t have to be called into action much, but when she does, she delivers.”
“She did everything she could to [keep] it out of the net,” Smith said. “That’s all you needed at that moment. She did her job.”
South Carolina did more than just clear it.
Bahr and Gamecock winger Ryan Gareis had a two on zero rush, but Bahr was tackled off the ball before she could get the ball off her feet.
Then disaster struck the Gamecocks’ backline.
Tatumn Milazzo, one of the team’s stalwarts on defense, injured her right knee. The senior co-captain battled with a Rebel midfielder for possession near the midfield stripe when her right knee buckled under her.
Milazzo had to be helped off the field and went straight into the home team’s locker room and did not return. Sutton Jones entered for Milazzo at right back and played 50 of the game’s final 62 minutes.
“We don’t know what [the injury] is right now,” Smith said. “It’s not looking good, but I can’t say anything until I hear from the doctors on what the extent of the injury is.”
Milazzo was on crutches after the game.
The Gamecocks took a 1-0 lead into the room after controlling 53 percent of possession and spent more time in the attacking third than the Rebels, winning four corners to one from the visitors. Ole Miss had three corners on the night.
The second half was all Gamecocks.
The home side continued to press and looked for the insurance marker, which came from Griffiths in the 64th minute. The ball found Griffiths at the edge of the box and the sophomore whipped a bending ball past the Rebel keeper to give South Carolina a two-goal cushion with 25 minutes to play.
“I had a big thank you to Claire after the game,” Smith said. “… It was real nice to get that insurance goal with not a ton of time at the end. That was huge, and what a great strike.”
The final 25 minutes were an easy one for Krzeczowski, who made three saves on the night.
“The defense played out of their minds and that’s what we’ve been harping on,” Krzeczowski said. “… We definitely wanted to make sure we kept Ole Miss out of the net, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Now the Gamecocks’ focus shifts to No. 20 Florida (10-6-0, 6-2-0 SEC) who was on the wrong side of a 1-0 upset Thursday against unranked Tennessee. With the South Carolina win and Gator loss, the Gamecocks can clinch the SEC east, and therefore a top two-seed in the SEC Tournament, with a win on Sunday.
“We need to be ready, ‘cause they are excellent,” Smith said. “But we have gone in there and won championships before, so that’s our goal and what we’ll be looking to do.”