ORANGE BEACH, Ala. –The No. 21 University of Florida soccer team (14-4-2, 9-2 SEC) opened Southeastern Conference Tournament play Wednesday with a 4-0 win over Kentucky (10-7-3, 4-6-1 SEC) at the Orange Beach SportsPlex. The win is the 10th consecutive for the Gators, which is the longest winning stretch since the Gators strung together 11-straight wins in the later portion of the 2001 season. During this current stretch, Florida has turned in nine shutouts.
These two teams met last year on this field for the SEC Tournament final, with the Wildcats taking the 2-1 win for UK’s second SEC Tournament title and first since 1995. With Wednesday’s win, Florida now owns a 4-1 advantage over UK in SEC Tournament play.
Florida scored within the first eight minutes of the match, which UF Head Coach Becky Burleigh credited as a key in the match.
“I think it was really important because when we played Kentucky in the past, they have been really organized defensively. If you don’t score that first goal early, it is really difficult to score on them. I think we were fortunate to score early, which made them come out and play at little bit more and not be able to low pressure as much – that really helped us,” Burleigh said. “If we hadn’t have gotten that early goal, I think it would have been a long evening.”
Florida turned in three goals in the opening half, two from senior Stacy Bishop. UF’s scoring began when Florida was awarded two consecutive corner kicks early in the opening half. On the second corner, the ball was popped up and the Gators took a couple of tries at the goal. But it was Bishop, receiving the ball from Karly Findorff located at the left post, who scored on a shot from near the penalty kick spot at 7:45.
Bishop finished UF’s first-half scoring when Ashlee Elliott, from the top of the 18-yard box circle, served the ball ahead to Bishop in the box. Bishop’s right-footed flick from seven yards was her second goal of the match. It is the second multi-goal match of the season for Bishop and the fourth of her two-year Gator career. Bishop now leads the Gators with nine goals this season.
Bishop credited the play of her teammates for both of her goals Wednesday.
“Karly did a good job keeping the ball alive. It came out to my feet and basically I just had to tap it in,” Bishop said about the first goal. “(On the second goal) I made a run across the box and called her and Ashlee played a perfect ball. All I had to do is flick it on.”
A heads-up play by senior KeLeigh Hudson gave Florida its second goal. Shana Hudson served up a 30-yard ball from the right touchline to the far post. The Kentucky defenders seemed to stop on the play, perhaps believing the ball was going to harmlessly roll out the endline. But KeLeigh Hudson was able to collect the ball before it rolled out of play. She took a couple of touches and scored on a short shot. The goal pushes her season goals total to eight.
That goal was a bit of a surprise for Burleigh.
“It was a really odd goal. I thought the ball was going out of bounds, but KeLeigh was able to stay on the end of it and she was able to sneak it in near post,” Burleigh said. “It was a pretty good effort on her part.”
Senior Bianca Gibbs scored Florida’s final goal at 89:09. Sophomore Angela Napolitano played a ball which found Gibbs in stride. She beat a pair of Wildcat defenders to hit the five-yard shot for her third goal of the season.
Burleigh thought the two combined well for Florida’s final score.
“Bianca had gotten herself in position to score a couple of times, so I think she really deserved that goal at the end. She was working hard and doing some 1v1 skills that got her in front of the goal to score,” Burleigh said. “That was a great individual effort, but it also was a great pass from Napo (Napolitano) as well to get her in.”
In other action Wednesday at the OrangeGeorgia advanced with a 2-0 win over No. 7 seed Mississippi. No. 6 seed South Carolina upset No. 3 seed Tennessee 2-0 in the day’s second match.
Next up, the Gators meet the winner of the Auburn-LSU match in Friday’s semifinal round. Match time is set for 8:30 p.m (ET) at the Orange Beach SportsPlex. Match statistics plus streaming audio of Florida’s match Friday can also be found on http://www.GatorZone.com.