Bulls stay undefeated at home, move on to AAC final

Aubrey Megrath (3) celebrates with teammates after scoring the first goal in USF's 2-0 win over ECU. ORACLE PHOTO/SAM NEWLON

It was domination from the word go for No. 11 USF women’s soccer in its AAC Tournament semifinal matchup against No. 4-seed ECU on Friday night at Corbett Stadium.

The No. 1-seed Bulls defeated the Pirates 2-0 behind goals from Aubrey Megrath and Evelyne Viens. USF goalkeeper Sydney Martinez posted her seventh shutout in the season, needing just two saves to blank ECU.

The game, originally scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff, did not get underway until 7:45 p.m. because the previous game at Corbett between No. 2-seed Memphis and No. 3-seed UCF was delayed over half an hour due to severe weather, which included a tornado warning, in the USF area.

Once the game finally got underway, the Bulls came out roaring. USF scored in the seventh minute off a header by midfielder Aubrey Megrath. The goal was the midfielder’s seventh of the season.

“Getting [that] goal was really important [for] us to get the momentum early on,” Viens said. “Every time we get the early goal … we get the win after. So it’s really important to get strong and get the momentum.”

Coach Denise Schilte-Brown also thought that the early momentum USF found helped lift her team against an ECU team that the Bulls had already defeated this season.

“I think we respected ECU and I felt that the girls did a great job of keeping the focus on them,” Schilte-Brown said. “We came out with a really high intensity and had a couple of early opportunities and I think that that momentum carried us through the game. So that was a great benefit.”

The rest of the game’s first 45 minutes, while not filled with goals, was filled with chances for the Bulls. USF outshot ECU 13-4 in the first half, though Megrath’s goal was USF’s last shot on target of the half.

The second half was all-Bulls as well. Viens scored in the 68th minute on a shot outside the 18-yard box. On the other side of the field, ECU was only able to put one shot on target during the game’s final 45 minutes.

After the great defensive performance, USF’s top scorer praised her backline.

“We need to shout-out [defenders] Kelli [Burney] and [Chyanne] Dennis and [Sabrina Wagner],” Viens said. “They do an amazing job. And if you look at [Olivia Cooke], when she comes in, she’s amazing. Our defense-line is something that we don’t talk enough about because our offense is scoring, but they are amazing.”

The win advances the Bulls to the championship round of the AAC Tournament for the second straight season. Last season, USF won the conference tournament championship against UCF in Orlando on penalty kicks thanks in large part to a dramatic save by now-former goalkeeper Kat Elliot.

This time around, the AAC’s championship will be decided in Tampa at Corbett Stadium. The opponent also will be different. Memphis defeated UCF 1-0 in the first semifinal game Friday to move on to the championship round.

The winner of the game not only gets the AAC Tournament championship, but an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which starts next week — and very likely will at least host a game during the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I think both teams feel really good about their season,” Schilte-Brown said. “I would say the same for Memphis. They’ve had a great year, their RPI is good, they’re ranked well. They had a great season. It was a close race.

“I think both of us know that it’s going to be a good game and an NCAA birth is in both our futures. So, knowing that kind of takes the monkey off both our backs and you just go out there and play as good as you can.”

USF and Memphis kickoff Sunday at 2 p.m. at Corbett Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

“It won’t be easy, but I feel like — we’re at home and we’re excited to have this atmosphere and be in our own beds,” Schilte-Brown said. “It’s a big deal.”