ORANGE BEACH, Alabama – Liz Keester unleashed a brilliant shot from 25 yards out to beat Florida keeper Taylor Burke with 6:58 remaining in the second half, giving the No. 21 Texas A&M Aggies a come-from-behind, 2-1, win over the No. 5 Gators in the SEC Tournament Championship at Orange Beach Sportsplex on Sunday afternoon.
It marks the Aggies first SEC Tournament title and the sixth conference tournament crown in the history of the program. With the win, Texas A&M (17-4-1) secured a bid to their 19th consecutive NCAA Division I Championship.
With the game tied 1-1 and drifting toward overtime Grace Wright set up the game-winning goal. She controlled the ball 30 yards out on the left side and glided toward the center of the pitch. With defenders approaching she dumped a pass off to Keester on the right flank. Keester took two dribbles to clear a defender and then boomed a shot from 25 yards out over the top of a leaping Burke and into the left upper 90 for her third goal of the tournament and 10th of the season.
The Aggies knotted the game in the 56th minute. Kelley Monogue slotted a pass through three Florida defenders, hitting Shea Groom on the run just outside the penalty box. Groom took two touches and then hit a driven shot low and to the right of Burke for the equalizer, her 13th goal of the season.
The Gators drew first blood in the 28th minute. With Savannah Jordan sent a cross from the right outside the penalty box. Pamela Begic was making a run down the center of the pitch and tapped the ball to the left to Annie Speese who beat A&M goalkeeper Jordan Day for her third goal of the season and the 1-0 lead.
Florida took advantage of a couple fortuitous bounces on the Aggie assault in the final five minutes of the first half to keep the Maroon and White off the scoreboard going into the intermission.
On a free kick from 20 yards out with 4:55 remaining in the first half, Meghan Streight hit a near perfect free kick off the bottom of the crossbar. The shot bounced straight down, but failed to cross the line and Florida goalkeeper Taylor Burke pounced on the ball before Janae Cousineau could provide a follow-up. With two minutes remaining in the half Annie Kunz sent a cross in off the endline and Burke made a lunging dive disrupt the path of the ball, but it bounced multiple times in front of an empty net before Florida defenders beat the A&M forwards to the ball.
Texas A&M owned an 8-5 advantage in shots in the first half, but the Gators owned a 3-1 edge in shots-on-goal.
For the match, A&M owned a 17-14 edge in shots and 5-4 margin in shots-on-goal. Florida owned a 6-4 advantage in corner kicks and the Gators brought physical play to the pitch, whistled for 13 fouls to only four for the Aggies.
Day made three saves in goal to pick up her 49th career win, taking sole possession of third place on A&M’s career win list.
The 12th Man helped bring a record crowd to the Orange Beach Sportsplex for the SEC Tournament with a record crowd of 1,711 in attendance.
The Aggies will await the announcement of the NCAA Division I Championship field on Monday to find out who their next opponent. The selection show will be streamed on NCAA.com at 3:30 pm Central.
2013 SEC Soccer Tournament All-Tournament Team
MVP: Liz Keester, Texas A&M
Mandy McCalla, Ole Miss
Bethany Bunker, Ole Miss
Danielle Au, South Carolina
Sabrina D’Angelo, South Carolina
Savannah Jordan, Florida
Havana Solaun, Florida
Christen Westphal, Florida
Allie Bailey, Texas A&M
Shea Groom, Texas A&M
Liz Keester, Texas A&M
Meghan Streight, Texas A&M
TEXAS A&M QUOTES
Texas A&M Head Coach G Guerrieri
On Texas A&M winning the program’s first SEC Tournament Championship: As they say, words can’t describe. It’s a real feeling of pride for these kids. We got off to a little bit of a slow start in the season. We lost our first SEC game of the regular season and were able to claw back and win a share of the regular-season title. This is special because this is against the champions from last year and the team we were tied with at the end of the regular season, and a team that we have the utmost respect for. It was going to take a special effort. We had two great goals in the second half to, first, claw back in and then the second one was just a great, great goal by Liz [Keester] to win it.
On Texas A&M freshman Liz Keester being named the SEC Tournament MVP: Not bad for a freshman to come in and do that. We joke with her because her family has been coming here to Orange Beach as long as she can remember. We consider this her new home field and she sure played like it, getting two goals in the semifinal against South Carolina and then one to win the championship for us.
On not getting discouraged by a 1-0 deficit at halftime: We wanted to make sure that the players knew that even though we were down at halftime, we had been playing well. We had gotten a lot of chances, we just didn’t get them on frame. To not lose their confidence because the game plan was working. We just had to have the confidence to go out and stick with it, and the grit to make it happen. That’s what it came down to.
On preparations for the upcoming NCAA Tournament: I think the SEC is in really good shape for the NCAA Tournament. We’re hoping that we can get six, seven, maybe eight teams into the field. For us, this is a chance for us maybe to be a seeded team. Florida should be a seeded team, South Carolina should be a seeded team. This helps us out a lot and we’re excited about the announcement on Monday and then, obviously, I think it’s a pretty good bet that we’re going to play at home for our 19th straight NCAA Tournament, which is really special.
Associate Head Coach Phil Stephenson
On the difference in the first half: We talked about the difference at half time as ‘they stuck their chance and we did not stick ours.’ Because they only had one chance to score, and they did. We had two or three and did not. At halftime we talked about how we were playing great, but it’s going to take a little bit of courage at one end of the field. Defensively we were fantastic, but we needed courage in their 18-yard box and the six-yard box.
On Shea Groom’s goal: One of the things we did with Shea was to move her around. She is such a great player and we needed to get her the ball. She played four different positions today in search of the ball. We kept moving her. It was too crowded in the middle, so we moved Allie (Bailey) there and put Shea out wide. The we couldn’t get her the ball out wide when we needed to, so we moved her up front to start the second half and she was getting more of the ball up front.
On Liz Keester’s goal: The two goals she scored the other day (semifinal vs South Carolina) we her two closest all season. The rest of the year she has scored goals like that (from range), so that’s just a run-of-the-mill goal for her.
Freshman forward Liz Keester, Texas A&M
On Texas A&M winning its first SEC Soccer Tournament Title: It was really exciting. I think it was a really great team effort out there. Our defense was solid, our midfield was solid and it was definitely a full team effort to get the win.
On being named SEC Tournament MVP: It means a lot – it’s really exciting. I wouldn’t be anywhere without my teammates. They make the passes. They’re right there carrying me across the line when we’re running. We’re all in it together.
On coming up clutch in each of the last two matches for Texas A&M: As funny as it seems, it just goes back to being a soccer game and doing what you love. In the moment, you just play and live in the moment.
Junior midfielder/forward Shea Groom
On winning the championship: It’s a great feeling. Being co-champions in the regular season when we had a chance to win it outright wasn’t what we wanted. We felt like this would be a tie-breaker of we won it. We don’t have to share this with anyone.
On her goal: It goes back to my teammates. They did great work to get possession of the ball and Kelley (Monogue) has been playing great balls on the attack all conference play and in the tournament.
Junior defender Meghan Streight
On winning the championship: I’m too excited for this. This is what we worked for all year and to have this reward is awesome and we’re so pumped for what’s next (NCAA Tournament).
On the team’s defense: We changed our defense because we know how they play. They’re a very possession-based team, so we changed how we played to counter that. It worked well. We were able to shut down their best player, Savannah Jordan and keep her from taking quality shots.