Early surges power Florida and Texas A&M wins

[SEC: Women] A pair of first-half goals in the span of seven minutes gave No. 12 Florida  a 2-1 win over Mississippi in Friday’s SEC semifinals at the Orange Beach Sportsplex. Two early counterattacks were also the difference as No. 23 Texas A&M knocked off No. 18 South Carolina, 2-1, in the other semifinal.

Freshman Savannah Jordan scored her 22nd goal -- the highest total for Florida since Abby Wambach scored 31 as a Gator senior -- in the 11th minute. Havana Solaun converted a penalty kick in the 18th minute that proved to be the difference as the Rebels narrowed the lead on the half-hour mark when Jennifer Miller’s 25-yard shot curled in the upper slot of the far corner.

Florida coach Becky Burleigh would have wished the Gators added to their lead in the second half.

“Especially in the second half," she said, "the only thing we didn’t do very efficiently was finish. We had a lot of really good opportunities, and I would have liked to have seen us get a few more goals. At this stage, it’s about win and move on.”

The Gators move on to Sunday’s SEC championship match for the 15th time in the program’s 19-year history.

In the other semifinal, Texas A&M also pushed the pace early and was rewarded with two quick goals.

Leading scorer Shea Groom struck a low left-footed shot that goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo stopped with a fingertip save, but striker Liz Keester was there to pounce on the rebound to give the Aggies the lead.

Just over six minutes later, Texas A&M scored off another counterattack, this time down the right flank on a long ball to Bianca Brinson. The speedy forward took the ball down the line, cut inside and slotted a pass to Keester, who scored from eight yards out for her second goal of the match.

In the 25th minute, the Gamecocks got a goal back through sophomore Raina Johnson, her team-leading ninth of the season, but they never could get the equalizer.

“We played better in that second half,” USC coach Shelley Smith said. “If we had come out and done some things early on and didn’t give up those two early goals, it changes the game. We had to play with being down and trying to come back"
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