Alabama fought off a physical second half effort from Kentucky to secure a 4-3 win Thursday night behind two goals from Casey Wertz at the Alabama Soccer Complex.
The Crimson Tide, despite taking a 3-0 lead early in the first half, was forced to grind out the result to protect its first SEC victory of the season.
After an 8th minute solo goal from Christina Maartensson, Emma Welch displayed a piece of skill to lose her defender a deliver a pin point cross to Wertz on the back post to double Alabama’s advantage.
“The first [goal] I think was Emma Welch that beat her defender,” Wertz said. “It was a great cross. I wasn’t really thinking anything really, just hoping that it comes to me and then it was in the back of the net.”
After conceding a second goal in a span of three minutes, the Wildcats put together two goals in two minutes of their own, converting on back to back corners in the final five minutes to wipe away the Crimson Tide lead going into the halftime break.
The second half was more akin to a boxing bout than a soccer match at times, with each team trading blows as Kentucky searched desperately for an equalizer. The tackles were flying in and both teams, on and off the field, were leaning on every single challenge.
A 55th minute goal from Casey Wertz, her second of the game, seemed to give the Crimson Tide the cushion they were desperate for, but a 25-yard blast from Kentucky’s Gretchen Mills into the top right corner just 30 seconds later kept Alabama’s lead at one goal.
“For me it wasn’t just the two goals that she scored,” Hart said. “Clearly that’s the most important stat but her targeting and chasing balls down and got behind teams. She was an impact in a lot of ways beside scoring.”
Alabama outshot the Wildcats 18-12 on the night, placing 10 of those attempts on target. The Crimson Tide had only scored two goals in SEC play coming in to tonight’s matchup.
“I thought we did a great job of finding our target forwards,” Hart said. “Some of our shots fell today. Some of those same shots that we took last week or the week before that didn’t fall for us, they fell today.”
In a game that saw legs kicked more than balls at times, both teams recorded 15 fouls, with Nealy Martin and Wertz receiving yellow cards.
“[The win] means a lot since we just lost four in a row in the SEC,” Wertz said. “I feel like it gives us a bunch of life. We needed it. We worked really hard and had a lot of energy so I think we deserved it.”
The result sees Alabama improve to 7-6-1 on the year, 1-4 in SEC play. Kentucky drops to 4-10, 0-5 in SEC play. The Crimson Tide will retake the field on Oct. 7 when it travels to take on Mississippi State. The Bulldogs come into the contest at 8-3-1 on the season, 1-3-1 in SEC play and riding a 1-0 defeat to Vanderbilt.