UF soccer team falls to No. 3 South Carolina

In this file photo, Florida's Kristen Cardano (19) passes the ball. Cardano was one of four Florida seniors who were honored tonight as part of Senior Night. (Brad McClenny/Staff Photographer)

With just 10 minutes left before the final buzzer, South Carolina forward Elexa Bahr weaved through the Gators defense and pushed the ball to the top of the box. UF goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese saw it, but there was nothing she could do.

Bahr’s shot from just outside the 18-yard line broke the deadlock and secured No. 3 South Carolina a 1-0 win over No. 17 Florida in the team’s regular season finale Thursday night at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

“I think there were stretches where South Carolina controlled stretches of the game, but I feel like our team played hard,” Gators coach Becky Burleigh said. “They did a great job in finishing their chances.

“I also think we have the talent. If that’s the No. 1 team in the country, we have the talent to be right there with them. And, we have the ability to be right there with them, and we have the ability to execute and be right there with them. So for me, my biggest hope is we see them again.”

Throughout the first 80 minutes of action, the Gators (13-5-0, 7-3-0 SEC) met their opponent head-on, eliminating all attacks by the Gamecocks while applying pressure of their own in the attacking third. However, after managing three shots in the opening half against a shrewd South Carolina (15-1-1, 9-0-1 SEC) defense, Florida would manage just two attempts on goal in the ensuing 45 minutes of play, yet it almost broke the deadlock.

Midfielder Mayra Pelayo, looking to apply pressure on the right flank against a swarming Gamecocks defense, saw teammate Deanne Rose streaking in front of goal with a defender to beat. But Pelayo’s pass narrowly missed Rose’s outstretched foot and landed out of bounds, ending the Florida attack. As the final minute ticked off the clock, Rose once again looked in position to pull Florida even, but a shot from Lais Araujo was handled by South Carolina goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczwoski.

“They’re one of the top teams in the country, and we definitely gave them a challenge,” UF midfielder Sarah Troccoli said. “I think they outplayed us a little bit tonight, but our energy, our effort was totally there, and we’re excited to meet them again in the SEC Tournament.”

The Gators honored four players — Gabby Seiler, Kristen Cardano, Jessie Holmes and Cassie Owens — as part of the team’s Senior Night. With a loss, the Gators secured a third-place finish in the SEC regular season standings. UF opens play in the SEC Tournament Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in Orange Beach, Alabama.

“We hope it’s going to be a long stretch where we play a bunch of games in a row, and that’s a tough tournament,” Burleigh said. “We just got to make sure we get our legs underneath us.”

No. 4 Gators host ‘Dig Pink’

Florida hosts its annual “Dig Pink” volleyball match today followed by a trip to Mississippi State on Sunday.

For tonight’s match at 7 at Exactech Arena/O’Connell Center, the UAA has partnered with UF Health to help spread awareness about breast cancer and those it effects.

Florida (16-1, 8-1 SEC) looks to remain a game behind Southeastern Conference leader Kentucky, ahead of Wednesday’s pivotal rematch in Lexington. The Gators will first need to handle South Carolina (10-10, 3-5) and its star hitter Mikayla Shields, who ranks seventh in the SEC in points per set.