SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Two goals in the final 16:11 changed the complexion of a close match, and sent the USC Upstate Spartans to a 3-2 win over the VMI Keydets in women’s soccer action Sunday afternoon in Spartanburg, S.C.
With VMI (3-4-1) leading 2-1 in a match that was evenly played throughout, Upstate’s Courtney Mack scored in the 74th minute to tie the match, and less than six minutes later, the Spartans (2-8-1) caught VMI keeper Amanda Berrios off her line. Maegan Garner took advantage for the home team, scoring off a double assist to give Upstate a lead it would not relinquish.
The match saw VMI outshoot Upstate 17-13, but the Keydets could not take advantage of 12 corner kicks, including two while trailing late. Simone Jimenez and Christelle Ndongo scored for VMI, as Jimenez tied Sarah Strand for the team lead in goals and Ndongo notched her first goal of the season.
The home team got on the board first, scoring in the 12th minute. Berrios appeared to misplay a cross that Michelle Calmeyn then settled and played to Rachel Carr. Carr hammered the shot by the VMI keeper, putting Upstate ahead 1-0.
After a Spartan shot in the 17th minute, VMI turned up its offensive pressure. Sarah Putney had a shot from inside the box go high, and then Jimenez misfired at 19:31 and again at 21:26, helping USC Upstate maintain its lead. Jimenez came right back, putting a shot on goal in the 24th minute, but Upstate keeper Rachel Collins made the save to preserve the advantage.
Perhaps the key play of the opening half came in the 27th minute, and it involved Jimenez as well. The junior sent a shot toward net, and the attempt appeared to have Collins beat. An Upstate defender, however, cut in and knocked the ball away for the team save, keeping the margin at 1-0.
Collins made another save in the 35th minute, stopping the half’s final shot on goal as the Spartans held their 1-0 cushion at halftime. In the opening period, VMI held a 10-5 edge in shots, but Upstate’s three saves kept the Keydets off the board.
The teams traded shots early in the second period, before Jimenez found the equalizer for VMI. At 50:35, she played the ball in on a cross attempt. The Upstate defense, however, failed to play the ball away and it evaded Collins and found the back of the net, knotting the score at 1. It was Jimenez’s fourth goal of the season, a career-high and a mark that is tied for the team lead.
The home team responded by earning two corners in the 53rd minute, but the resultant shots were no good. A header shot at 52:26 went high, and Berrios stopped the second try some 40 seconds later, keeping the match tied at 1.
After a pair of VMI corner kicks went for naught, Upstate went to its bench for a new keeper, bringing in Sarah Plantz. The Keydets immediately scored against the new netminder, as after a Sarah Putney corner, the ball bounced to the top of the box. Ndongo fired a shot through traffic and into the back of the net, giving the visitors their first lead of the day, 2-1 with just over 30 minutes to play.
The next 14 minutes were primarily contested in the midfield, with each team earning just one shot until the 74th minute. That was when the Spartans’ Calmeyn played the ball into the box to Mack, who beat Berrios to knot the match at 2. Six minutes later, Garner struck for the eventual game-winner.
The Keydets had two chances in the final eight minutes, with two corner kicks generating offensive opportunities. Both shots off the corners missed the frame, however, allowing Upstate to hang on for the win.
VMI generated eight corner kicks in the second half, but the Keydets were outshot 8-7 in the final 45 minutes. Berrios made one save on the day, ending a run that had seen her make double-digit saves in three of the past four matches. Upstate’s two keepers combined for two saves, as well as the crucial team save in the first half.
VMI will return to action Thursday, Sept. 29, taking on UNC Asheville in the team’s Big South opener at Patchin Field. Game time is set for 4 p.m.