An early overtime goal was enough to give nationally-ranked South Carolina a 1-0 win over Tennessee in a tough defensive battle at Regal Soccer Stadium on Sunday.
No. 17 South Carolina's intense pressure payed off, as sophomore midfielder Raina Johnson scored the winning goal after her run sent her through the Tennessee defense and in on goal. Her shot was barely scuffed by the keeper, but it was enough to get the job done.
Tennessee was unable to keep the ball long enough to develop a substantial attacking threat.
Coach Brian Pensky attributed that to the Gamecocks' playing style.
"For a better part of the game they had the ball," Pensky said. "For moments we were able to get it back, we just couldn't generate enough of an attack ... Their pressure of their front three and midfield three [made] it hard."
South Carolina, who was 10-1-1 entering Sunday's game, is known for its stout defense, allowing an average of 0.40 goals per game, good for fifth in the country.
The Lady Vols found it hard to penetrate that stout defense.
Tennessee had only four shots, forcing two saves from South Carolina goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo. The best chances for the Vols came from set pieces, which were ineffective.
"The balls we're getting from our players on our set pieces are now between average to poor," Pensky said. "We weren't very good today in that regard, and that responsibility falls on all of us."
Though the Lady Vols' offense found it hard to repeat the same performance that earned the squad a 3-0 win against Ole Miss on Friday, the defense nearly helped the Vols escape with a tie.
A spectacular goal-line clearance by defender Megan Erskine in the 61st minute kept Tennessee in the game.
Junior goalkeeper Julie Eckel repeated her heroics from Friday night, parrying various crosses away from the penalty area.
"I think they did well again today," Pensky said. "They're fatigued. They all went 90 minutes Friday night ... for the entire part they went 90-plus today. I thought that group was good."
Despite the concession of the late goal, keeper Eckel remains confident in her back line, a defense that has allowed on average less than a goal per game.
"Everyone has my back," Eckel said. "It's just a matter of executing what we've been practicing ... I can't imagine playing with another defense."
Looking ahead to next week's game at Kentucky, Pensky said he hopes to tweak the Lady Vols' style of play and create a more attacking threat.
"That's our job as coaches," Pensky said. "How are we going to work to put teams on their heels and find less moments to be on our own heels."
Despite the loss, Tennessee will look to continue their streak of not incurring back-to-back regular season losses since October of 2010.
To do that, Pensky knows the mood in the camp will have to be one of unity.
"When we get tough results, we can't point fingers at each other," Pensky said. "And I don't think they do."