GREENVILLE, N.C. – In the first game against a ranked opponent, the East Carolina soccer team came up short, falling to No. 10 South Carolina on Thursday.
“I think the second half, we were much better,” said head coach Jason Hamilton. “I think in the first half, we got too comfortable going big. To be fair to our center backs, they weren’t getting many options of people checking to. So, we adjusted that at halftime where you’ve got to want the ball, getting some movement up top and players coming to find the ball. I think we did a much better job in the second half of breaking them down and creating things. Nine shots in the second half against a team like that is a good thing for us.”
ECU falls to 1-2-0 on the season while South Carolina stays perfect at 2-0-0.
The Gamecocks pressed forward in the early going, but East Carolina goalkeeper Maeve English helped make sure there was not an early goal. The Greenville, N.C., native made four saves in the opening 24 minutes. On the other end, the Pirates nearly took the lead when Tori Riggs launched a long shot in the 25th minute that just cleared the South Carolina crossbar.
However, the breakthrough finally came in the 33rd minute for the Gamecocks. Corinna Zullo collected the ball on the right wing and surged into the East Carolina box. She lofted a shot that was able to tuck into the far post to open the scoring.
Zullo’s goal stood as the only score of the opening half, but both teams came out of the locker room firing. South Carolina had a shot on goal just 15 second into the second stanza but English made the stop. A minute later, Holly Schlage got free and had the first shot on goal for the Pirates, but it was saved.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, South Carolina doubled its lead soon after. On a corner kick, Lauren Chang swung a cross into the far post where Jyllissa Harris was able to rise up and head it home.
The pressure continued on the Pirates’ goal, but English kept the Gamecocks at bay with a flurry of saves. On one sequence, Zullo got free on a breakway, but English blocked her initial shot and then scrambled back to make another save on a Megan Spiehs attempt.
The Gamecocks salted the game away in the 70th minute. After some tight play in the right side of the ECU box, Payton Patrick slipped a pass to Eveleen Hahn and Hanh curled a shot into the far post.
East Carolina got a consolation goal in the 84th minute. An East Carolina free kick was floated into the South Carolina box and was cleared out, but only as far as the top of the penalty area. Sierra Lowery was there waiting and she curled in a one-time effort into the bottom corner of the goal for her first career tally as a Pirate.
“A fantastic finish for Sierra,” Hamilton said. “There were a lot of bodies in front of her and to pick out the corner and just slot it in there. We had a little spell there with a couple of good chances where their goalkeeper made a couple of good saves. For us to get on the board, that’s a good one for us to get that confidence at the end of the game.”
South Carolina finished with a 16-11 edge in shots and 6-2 in corner kicks. English finished nine saves for the Pirates while Heather Hinz made two saves in the first 75:28. Taylor Fox relieved Hinz for the final 14:32 and made two stops while allowing Lowery’s goal.
The crowd was not only the biggest of the young season, but was the fourth-highest crowd in Johnson Stadium history with 862 fans attending on Thursday night.
“They were here (the fans) and they stayed,” Hamilton added. “It was fantastic to see that. They were loud and that’s what we want here at Johnson Stadium, give us that homefield advantage. Overall, just proud of our girls. We talked about every game being a winning experience and playing teams like this, it will be. We had a couple of breakdowns and a team like this is going to take advantage of those breakdowns. So we’ve just got to learn from it and get ready for the next one.”
The Pirates will head on the road to High Point on Sunday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m., on ESPN+.