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NCAA Game of the Week: South Carolina shuts out Ole Miss, stays perfect in SEC play

South Carolina defeated Ole Miss, 2-0, thanks to goals by Elexa Bahr and Ryan Gareis.
(photo courtesy of University of South Carolina)

The No. 3 South Carolina Gamecocks defeated the No. 18 Ole Miss Rebels, 2-0, Friday night in the first ever Top 20 showdown at Ole Miss Soccer Stadium. The win was the Gamecocks’ fifth straight shutout, the last four of which have been against SEC opponents for a perfect 4-0 start to conference play for the defending regular season SEC champions.

Although the Rebels had outscored opponents 45-2 to be the second-highest scoring offense in the country, South Carolina is by far the toughest opponent they’ve faced. The strong defensive efforts by the Gamecocks prevented Ole Miss from creating serious opportunities on goal until midway through the second half, and by then South Carolina was already leading two goals to nil. A strong performance in goal by sophomore keeper Mikayla Krzeczowski prevented the Rebels from finishing any of their most dangerous attempts, earning another clean sheet.

The first of the South Carolina goals came in just 10 minutes in when senior forward Savannah McCaskill, one of the top performers in all of NCAA soccer, connected with sophomore striker Elexa Bahr. A Rebel defender made the mistake of taking a heavy touch, allowing McCaskill to dispossess her of the ball about 40 yards out from goal. McCaskill moved the ball closer to goal before laying it off for Bahr, who just beat goalkeeper Marnie Merritt to the ball, slotting a well-struck ball into the back of the net.

Although Merritt was unsuccessful in preventing Bahr from scoring, she was successful in preventing a McCaskill finish about 10 minutes later, grabbing the ball from the Gamecock striker’s feet, upending her inside the box in the process. Although McCaskill appealed for a penalty on the play, the ref would not be persuaded, and play continued. Moments later, the Rebels had their best attempt of the first half when CeCe Kizer, one of Ole Miss’s most potent attackers, played the ball to Julia Phillips, but Krzeczowski came up big with the stop.

The score remained 1-0 in favor of the visitors until the hour mark, when freshman Ryan Gareis worked a little magic on the ball. On the receiving end of a well-placed cross, Gareis used her footwork to maintain possession and maneuver around an Ole Miss defender before finding space at the top of the box. From there, the freshman blasted a left-footed shot into the top right corner to double the Gamecocks’ lead.

One of the most concerning moments of the game was when Savannah McCaskill took a hard knock on a play and stayed down, clutching at her right knee after the collision. The second Gamecock to be shaken up on a play in the match, she was attended to on the field before walking off on her own accord, much to the relief of South Carolina fans everywhere. Although she did sub out, she re-entered the match in the 82nd minute.

McCaskill’s absence may have been a contributing factor in the swing of momentum in the Rebels’ favor, and Kizer nearly pulled them within one when she chipped Krzeczowski with a shot, only to have the goal called back when Kizer was ruled offside. That was as close as Ole Miss would get to scoring on the night, and, as a result, the Gamecocks would walk away the victors.

Ole Miss will next kick off Week 8 against another tough SEC opponent, Tennessee, who remained perfect on the season until last weekend when they drew Auburn before falling to South Carolina. Those two teams face off on Thursday, October 5 at 7 p.m. ET in Knoxville. The Gamecocks also return to action at 7 p.m. ET next Thursday, hosting the Mississippi State Bulldogs in more SEC action.

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