ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – No. 12 Tennessee kept its SEC Championship hopes alive, advancing to the semifinals after taking a 5-2 win over Florida in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals on Tuesday.
UT’s five goals ties the program record for goals scored in an SEC Tournament game, and it’s the Vols’ first win at the tournament since a 2-0 victory over Ole Miss in the first round in 2016.
Redshirt-sophomore Jaida Thomas turned in a brace to lead No. 2 seed Tennessee (16-2-0) in scoring. Senior Mackenzie George, freshman Taylor Huff and senior Abbey Burdette also got on the score sheet for UT.
Tenth-seeded Florida’s (4-12-4) goals were scored by Georgia Eaton-Collins and Julianne Leskauskas.
“The good is that we won… The great is that we just keep responding when it gets a little bit tough,” said Tennessee head coach Brian Penksy. “And then, obviously, we were able to put the game away with Jaida (Thomas) and (Mackenzie) George doing their thing. I’m big-time proud of our kids. They wanted this win really badly. They’re excited to continue on down here. It’s been a little while, and we look forward to playing the winner (of Ole Miss vs. Alabama).”
Thomas scored UT’s first goal on a hustle play, intercepting a pass from the keeper inside the box and driving it low into the corner to put the Vols up 1-0 in the 17th minute.
Two minutes later Burdette knocked in her first goal of the season to double the score, connecting on a deflected shot from six yards out.
Florida countered with a goal of its own on a set piece when Eaton-Collins got a head on a Leskauskas serve in the 23rd minute, sending a perfectly placed ball into the far corner of the goal.
Claire Rain nearly added a third first-half goal in the 35th minute, firing at the top left corner from 20 yards out and skipping the ball of the crossbar.
The Gators got a good look off a scramble in the box following a set piece in the 43rd minute, but the would-be goal was called offside, and UT took a 2-1 lead into the break.
Tennessee kept the tempo up in the second half, getting two shots on goal before Huff found the net in the 58th minute from the top of the box. Hannah Tillett earned her second assist of the season on the play.
Two minutes later Hannah Zaluski banged a shot off the crossbar, but UF went on to mount a comeback, getting off three shots on goal before Leskauskas pulled the Gators within one in the 81st minute with a laser from the left side of the box.
George responded for Tennessee, breaking behind the Gator defense to score her sixth goal of the season, and Thomas capped off the scoring in the final minute, chipping one over the keeper to give UT a 5-2 win.
UP NEXT: UT advances to the semifinals on Thursday and will face the winner of today’s matchup between No. 3 seed Ole Miss and No. 6 seed Alabama. The game will kick off at 8:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on SEC Network.
EVERYONE IS DANGEROUS: With Burdette’s first goal of the season against Florida, 15 different Volunteers have now scored at least one goal this season.
SECOND HALF TEAM: Tennessee is outscoring opponents 31-7 after halftime, has scored 11 goals during the final 10 minutes of regulation and has landed two golden goals this season.
GEORGE HEATING UP: Senior Mackenzie George has logged goals in four straight games, moving her total to six on the season.