TAMPA, FLA. – In the AAC opener for both teams, the East Carolina soccer team went toe-to-toe with defending champion South Florida, but the Pirates fell 3-2 in overtime on Thursday night.
“Really proud of the fight our ladies put out there tonight,” said Head Soccer Coach Jason Hamilton. “There are no moral victories in the game, but I remember being on that field four years ago in my first season here and losing 4-0. We are coming along nicely and that is a good sign.”
ECU falls to 4-5-0 on the season with an 0-1-0 AAC record while South Florida improves to 5-2-1 overall and 1-0-0 in conference.
The Pirates took just one shot on goal in the first half, but they made it count. In the 20th minute, Haley McWhirter picked off an errant South Florida pass around the halfway line. McWhirter surged forward into the Bulls half and looked up to see South Florida goalkeeper Sydney Martinez off her line. McWhirter launched a shot from 35-yards out that flew past a retreating Martinez and into the back of the net for the opening goal.
East Carolina took the 1-0 lead into the second half and the Bulls began to press forward in numbers looking to draw even. For much of the second stanza, the Pirate defense held strong, despite South Florida taking 21 shots in the second half. However, the breakthrough for South Florida came in the 84th minute. After ECU dealt with an initial South Florida cross, the ball fell to Lucy Roberts on the right side of the ECU box. Roberts chipped a shot towards the back post that slipped just inside the post to tie the game.
That was just the beginning of a frantic final 10 minutes. In the 87th minute, Tori Riggs found space on the left side of the South Florida half. Much like McWhirter in the first half, Riggs launched a deep shot. Riggs’ effort off her right foot curled up and over Martinez and into the upper right corner of the goal.
ECU’s second lead was short-lived though. With less than two minutes on the clock, Sydny Nasello cut inside and took a shot from the top of the Pirate box. Nasello’s shot was on target, just eluding a diving Maeve English.
The two teams went to overtime and the frantic pace from the end of regulation carried over into the extra period. South Florida had a pair of corner kicks, but the Pirates cleared each. However, on the second, the clearance reached only as far as Chyanne Dennis. Dennis launched a cross back into the Pirate penalty area. Emilee Lajmiri got a touch on it and that was enough to get it to Chloe Zamiela who tucked it home for the game-winning goal in the 94th minute.
“This group we have is special and capable of great things,” Hamilton added. “I don’t think they walk away from this game saying the season is over. I think this game motivates them. The feeling of losing a game that way, a game you have the lead twice in, can drive them to get better and move forward.”
South Florida finished with a 29-5 edge in shots and a 10-1 lead in corner kicks. The Bulls held 76% of possession and had a 7-2 advantage in shots on goal. English made four saves for the Pirates.
ECU will have a brief respite from AAC play when the Pirates travel to James Madison for the conclusion of a four-match road trip. Kickoff for that match is scheduled for 1 p.m., on Sunday afternoon.