COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina earned goals from Rae Wilson and Coryn Bajema to put away Mercer, 2-0, in the 2012 home opener at Stone Stadium Thursday night for the team's first win of the season.
Senior Darien Vercillo recorded two saves to post her second shutout of the year for South Carolina (1-1-1) in a match that was played after a heavy downpour in the Columbia area threatened to delay to the match up until kickoff. Mercer lost for the first time this season, moving to 1-1-1 on the year. Andie Romness, Courtney Angotti-Smith and Gabrielle Gilbert registered assists for South Carolina.
"We're thrilled to get a win and score some goals," South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. "It's a good feeling for sure. We didn't come out starting like we should have at home. It was a slow first half, and I'm really proud of how the team responded in the second half. They were doing things we've worked on the past week to get better from last weekend's games. They applied that in the second half and got a result. I'm proud of that effort."
The two teams played an even first half statistically with both teams getting few good looks on the net before Carolina's leader. Mercer's Lauren Gassie earned the first shot on goal in the 15th with a strike from range that was easily collected by Vercillo. Six minutes later, freshman Coryn Bajema directed a header from a Romness free kick that the Mercer saved to keep the match even.
Things took a turn for the Gamecocks when Courtney Angotti-Smith nearly headed in a cross in the 36th minute that set up the corner kick leading to Wilson's goal. Romness took the set piece and placed it at the far post over the keeper's reach, leading to a perfectly placed header by Wilson at 36:14 to take the 1-0 lead.
The goal was the second of Wilson's career following her three-point game against Arkansas in 2010 with a goal and assist. The Greenville native missed all of 2011 recovering from preseason hip surgery but has started off 2012 strong with an assist in Sunday's match at Minnesota along with the goal today.
"I've been waiting for this chance to get the opportunity to come back and play," Wilson said. "It's been a year and a half. I know the staff and the team all support me, and I'm just excited that I can make an impact on the team."
"I'm so excited for her," Smith said. "Just to see the joy in her eyes when she gets to play on the field, it means something for someone that's had it taken away and not sure if they could even come back to play. You see that passion she has and how grateful she is to come out and play."
The Gamecocks continued with the new-look attack to start the second period with Alexa Gainey, Angotti-Smith and Lani Smith leading the charge up top along with Samantha Gonzalez in the midfield. Angotti-Smith, who was a sparkplug for South Carolina in 23 first half minutes, continued making a mark on the game at the start of the new stanza with a shot two minutes into the period the went wide of the net.
South Carolina would earn the second goal in the 63rd with an Angotti-Smith ball sent across the mouth of the goal that a diving Bajema forcefully headed into the goal for the 2-0 advantage. It was the first goal of the season for the freshman from Washington, and the first assist of the season for the freshman from Goose Creek, S.C.
"It's a good confidence booster," Bajema said. "I'm just happy to be a part of the team, help contribute and finish in the final third."
Wilson nearly made it two goals in the 67th with a shot in front of the net that the keeper saved in traffic. Mercer had its best look in the 82nd when Patricia-Ann Upson hit the left post from within the area, and Brianna Stampler's follow-up was saved by a Gamecock defender to preserve the shutout. Three minutes later, Lani Smith reciprocated for the Gamecocks with a shot of her own that clanged off the Mercer left post. The Gamecocks concluded with a 9-7 shot edge and three saves overall.
South Carolina returns to action Sunday afternoon when the team takes on Jacksonville at Stone Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.