ORANGE BEACH, Ala.- A 53rd minute goal by sophomore Tori Cannata followed by a great defensive stand allowed Arkansas to knock off top-seed South Carolina, 1-0, in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals Tuesday night at the Orange Beach Sportsplex.
Cannata found herself in the right place at the right time after a deflection from Kayla McKeon in the middle of the box to fire home her first goal of the year. It was her second goal of her career and first game winner. The play built off a shot from freshman Taylor Malham just inside the 18-yard box, one of three shots in the match for Arkansas.
“We just had a great set up,” Cannata said after the match. “I was floating in the box and I knew we had a shot. I was looking for a deflection. This team is fearless and relentless and we’re not afraid of any challenge.”
The defense withstood a South Carolina (15-2-1, 9-0-1 SEC) onslaught of 20 shots, four that were on target. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Jordan Harris came up with three saves in the match, notching her seventh win of the year. It’s Arkansas’ 10th shutout of the campaign, tying the school record for the most clean sheets in a single season (2009).
It was also the first win over South Carolina since 2005 and just the fourth win over the Gamecocks in the all-time series dating back to 1995.
“What a gutsy performance,” Arkansas head coach Colby Hale said. “We went in at half and said it wasn’t necessarily our best performance, but we had them where we wanted them. At nil-nil, they (Razorbacks) were frustrated. We just said the set pieces have got to matter to us and we scored on one. What a great goal by Tori (Cannata). Then, we just held on. If there was a shot that we didn’t block or slide for, I’d be shocked. I’m very proud of them.”
Overall, the win moves the Razorbacks to 11-9-1 and is the third win over a top-five program in the last two years. It’s also the second-straight year that Arkansas has reached the semifinals of the SEC Tournament and fifth time in program history.
Of the 20 shots South Carolina attempted, 12 came in the second half. However, the Razorback back line had, arguably, its best performance of the year as each of the Gamecocks attempts were either blocked or off target.
It has been a week of redemption for the Razorbacks at the SEC Tournament. With now its second win over an opponent it lost to earlier in the year, Arkansas will have a chance to earn another winning result as it will face either Vanderbilt or Tennessee on Thursday for a spot in the tournament final. Arkansas fought to a scoreless draw with the Commodores on Sept. 21 and fell to the Volunteers, 3-2, last week in the regular season finale.
Tuesday’s match was Arkansas’ 10th match of the year decided by one goal and fourth match that had the Razorbacks coming out on the winning side. The three shots was also Arkansas’ lowest shot output in a match this season. In games that its totaled 10 shots or less this season, Arkansas is 3-4-1.
“We’ve been through a lot this year,” Hale said. “The adversity brought us together and made us tougher. It feels like we’re peaking at the right time.”
Kickoff with either Vanderbilt or Tennessee is set for 3:30 p.m. at the Orange Beach Sportsplex on Thursday and will be televised on the SEC Network.
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