Florida soccer dominates No. 5 seed Georgia

The Florida soccer team shut out the Georgia Bulldogs with a 2-0 win in the opening round of the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Ala.

The Gators (15-6, 7-4 SEC) have worked on finishing goals recently after losing to LSU and South Carolina to end the regular season. The first half of Wednesday’s match saw those efforts pay off.

Florida took possession from the start and sent the ball in the Bulldogs’ half, attempting to make goals early on and not fall behind as they have in past matches.

This weekend’s practice finishing drill seemed to pay off, when 25 minutes into the game Gator forward/midfielder Lindsay Thompson down played a header into the middle and sent it to Gator midfielder/forward Tahnai Annis, who sank the ball into the net from 10 yards out and put the Gators in the lead 1-0.

“For us, we’re never going to lose the way we play soccer,” Gators head coach Becky Burleigh said. “We needed to bring a little more of intangibles in terms of the way we battled. Winning balls in the air is a big thing for us and our team did a tremendous job of that tonight.”

The Gators’ defense was all about strength and urgency, limiting Georgia’s advances to only three shots to the Gator goal in the first 30 minutes. Two of the Bulldogs’ shots were too high, and Georgia midfielder Alexa Newfield’s shot was saved by Gators keeper Taylor Burke.

Georgia keeper Ashley Baker held her own against the pressure driven towards the Bulldogs’ goal, making the saves that excused the lack of strength in Georgia’s defense.

However, with a minute left in the half, Gators midfielder Holly King sent a header into the 6-yard box, where UF midfielder/forward Annis sent it into Georgia’s goal again to further their lead 2-0.

“Once we win the second ball, get it out of pressure and then do the things we want to do,” Burleigh said about the second goal.

Georgia head coach Steve Holeman further commented, “It was unfortunate that we gave up a couple of goals in the first half, especially there at the end. That one took the wind out of our sails a little bit.”

The second period began with Georgia (12-6-2, 6-3-2 SEC) taking possession of the ball and moving it in the Gators’ half.

Georgia’s offense began to put pressure on by taking shots but none were successful, either being blocked by the consistency in strength of Florida defense or saved by Gators’ keeper Burke.

Florida threw the pressure back, sending the ball to Georgia half and attempting to take the offense forward to goal.

Shot attempts were made by Gators midfielder/forward Erika Tymrak and forward Jillian Graff, but finishing the goals failed against a strengthened Georgia defensed.

Even when making it past Georgia’s defense, Florida players Taylor Travis and Maggie Rodgers couldn’t sink shots in past Baker.

Aggression took ahold of the Georgia team as Florida kept persisting forward, with a total of two yellow cards issued to Georgia players Newfield and Tori Cooper.

No progress was made by either team to finish goals even though Florida controlled the ball through the majority of the second half.

“It was a hard-fought match between two great teams,” Holeman said. “They’re (Florida) a great team and, at the end of the day, I think they deserve to win.”

Florida goes on to face Alabama in Friday’s SEC Tournament Semifinals at 8:30 p.m. Burleigh said that it will be a “great matchup” considering the Alabama’s 1-0 win against SEC Champion South Carolina on Wednesday.

Gator Country reporter Michelle Provenzano can be reached at . You can also follow her on twitter, @mmprovenzano.