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By Tom Hurley | @TomHurleyKernel
Sophomore defender Arin Gilliland propelled UK women’s soccer into the SEC tournament by netting the winning goal in a tight win over South Carolina Friday night.
The Cats have now qualified for the SEC post-season, which this season will be held in Orange Beach, Ala.,for the third year running.
Friday’s 1-0 victory is the Cats’ third win in a row, and the third successive match Gilliland has scored or assisted the game winner since UK head coach Jon Lipsitz moved her from defense to forward.
“She’s a special player.” Lipsitz said of the Lexington native.
“We know when we moved her up top (that) we needed help up there, it wasn’t that other people weren’t playing well, we were just missing something. She’s going up front and doing a great job for us,” Lipsitz said.
In a tight game played in wet and windy conditions at the UK Soccer Complex, both teams struggled to gain a foothold of the match as they battled each other and the elements.
Junior goalkeeper Kayla King stopped a shot from USC’s Rae Wilson in the early stages, with little else of note happening until Gilliland scored what proved to be the decisive goal.
Freshman midfielder Courtney Raetzman gained possession in midfield before threading out to Gilliland on the left.
After skipping past her defender, Gilliland galloped towards the edge of the box before unleashing a low drive which skimmed off the wet grass into the net.
The awkward bounce off the wet turf confused Gamecocks goalie Sabrina D’Angelo who could only watch the ball slide past her across the goal line.
UK took their 1-0 advantage into the halftime break, and came out looking in no mood to let the lead slip.
USC’s offense struggled to break down the home defense, settling for speculative long range efforts which sailed high and wide of King’s goal.
The closest the visitors came to an equalizer was a free-kick from Danielle Au with 10 minutes to play that fizzled two feet over King’s crossbar.
UK had the chance to double their lead late on when Gamecock’s defender Taylor Leach handled inside the penalty area, but D’Angelo dived low to her right to save Gilliland’s spot-kick.
South Carolina pressed in the final minutes for an equalizer but it wasn’t to be as UK held on to collect the victory and their ticket to the SEC tournament.
The Cats are next in action Sunday against Auburn at the UK Soccer Complex, with kick-off set for 2:30 p.m.