Thursday night could have been a night full of drama. Entering the evening, No. 8 South Carolina could win the SEC regular-season title but could only finish as high as the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament, which starts Sunday in Orange Beach, Ala.
On the flip side, if results didn’t go their way, the Gamecocks could potentially fall all the way to the No. 6 seed.
To win the conference, the Gamecocks needed to win its Thursday road match against Auburn and have Arkansas draw or lose at Tennessee. But since only division games count in the divisional standings, regardless of the result, the Gamecocks couldn’t win the SEC East. On top that, the conference division winners are guaranteed the top two seeds in the tournament.
Before South Carolina (13-1-3, 7-0-3 SEC) started its second half against Auburn (7-9-2, 4-6-0 SEC), the Razorbacks had already won.
The Gamecocks however kept their focus and defeated Auburn 2-0 to go unbeaten in the SEC for the third time in four seasons.
The result — and several others around the conference — locked the Gamecocks and Georgia into an SEC Tournament quarterfinal matchup at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday (SEC Network). South Carolina defeated Georgia 3-0 in the opening game of SEC play on Sept. 20 at Stone Stadium.
“We’re obviously disappointed to not be able to capture the regular season title. We were very close,” Gamecock head coach Shelley Smith told the SEC Network after the game. “… To be able to go into Orange Beach and try to come out with a championship. We’re a little bit more hungry, coming off a season where we were that close. This team is excited to have that second chance.”
The winner of South Carolina-Georgia will play the winner of Vanderbilt and the winner of Alabama or Auburn. That semifinal game will take place at 7 p.m. on Nov. 7 before the championship game three days later.
Despite having just one conference loss in the last four regular season in the SEC, the Gamecocks have yet to get to the tournament final in that span.
Elexa Bahr opened the scoring on Thursday night just past the halfway mark of the first 45 minutes. The Gamecock senior forward had a wide-open net to shoot at and make no mistake from in close after Gamecock winger Luciana Zullo found the striker all alone. Lauren Chang was also credited with an assist on the play.
Just five minutes later, South Carolina was back on the attack.
The Gamecocks earned a free kick just beyond midfield. Chang’s cross found the head of Gamecock center back Anna Patten, who headed it home to give the Gamecocks a two-goal lead that stayed for the rest of the match.
As the second half began, there was more drama unfolding elsewhere in the conference. Georgia scored with 101 seconds left to stun visiting Florida, giving Vanderbilt the East division crown and the No. 2 seed in the tournament. The Bulldogs leaped to the sixth seed after capturing the three points.
With the South Carolina-Auburn game reaching its final stages, the Gamecock defense continued to shut down any offense Auburn tried to generate. The Tigers finished with just four shots, two on goal, with zero shots coming in the second half.
Senior goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski registered her 44th career shutout, 11th most in NCAA history.