Finishing its last road trip of the season, the UCSB women’s soccer team ended Big West play on an indifferent note, earning a 1-0 win over Cal State Fullerton and losing a 4-3 heartbreaker against Cal State Northridge.
The Gauchos’ unbeaten streak of five wins came to an end Sunday putting them at an overall record of 13-5-1 and 6-2 in the Big West. Fullerton ended its regular season with an overall record of 13-3-1, 5-2 in conference play while CSUN concluded with an 11-8-1 overall, 4-3-1 Big West record.
Santa Barbara’s weekend split moves them down the ladder to second place in the Big West behind Long Beach State. The 49ers hold the tiebreaker over Santa Barbara, handing the Gauchos their first loss in conference play with a 1-0 victory on Oct. 11th.
The Gauchos have had a knack for pulling out close games against tough opponents and Thursday’s match was no different. Matching up against its biggest competition in hunt of the Big West title, Santa Barbara headed into Titan Stadium to face the top-ranked team in the conference in Cal State Fullerton. With both teams hosting a conference record of 5-1 in the Big West, this defensively charged match kept the two southern California squads scoreless for the first 77 minutes of play.
The Gauchos were deprived of offensive opportunities in the first half as they were held to two corner kicks and one shot on goal. Santa Barbara’s best chance at a goal came off a corner kick in the 37th minute by senior forward Savannah Francis.
The fourth year from La Mirada, CA sent the ball high towards the middle of the goal box looking for her teammates but had her shot attempt snatched in mid-air by Fullerton’s redshirt junior goalkeeper Jennifer Stuart, which would be her only save of the day.
The Titans controlled the majority of the match racking up nine of their total 15 shots in the first half. Redshirt senior forward Rebecca Wilson led the way accounting for seven shots on goal. Wilson has emerged as one of the conference’s elite scorers, knocking in a league best 16 goals on the year. The former Big West Player of the Year polled in six scores during the month of October, including a season-high three goals in the Titan’s 4-0 blowout over Hawaii October 11th.
Heading into the second half, the score remained at a stalemate until an opportunity presented itself in the 77th minute for UCSB sophomore forward Amanda Ball. Freshman forward Mallory Hromatko found Ball down the right flank nearing the penalty box and delivered a touch pass to her teammate. With a defender right on her back, Ball made one inside cut past a diving Stuart and launched a go-ahead goal in to the bottom left of the net.
Ball’s third goal since coming off of injury couldn’t have been at a better time as it handed her team the 1-0 victory. Her score helped end Stuart’s unbeaten streak of 11 games this year.
Senior goalkeeper Beth Ritter played a pivotal role in Thursday’s contest, recording a season-high eight saves to shutout the Titan’s high-powered offense. Fullerton came into the match with 38 goals on the year, the most by any team in the conference.
Since taking over for junior goalkeeper Jacq Caginia in their match against Long Beach State, Ritter has been the anchor on defense for UCSB. She has won seven of her eight previous starts.
While it chipped away at Cal State Northridge’s early lead in Sunday’s match, UCSB came up short in its season finale. After trailing 3-0 by the end of the first half, Head Coach Paul Stumpf and his team made some adjustments, influencing the Gauchos’ aggressive attack in the second period. Attempting to spoil the Matadors’ Senior Night, UCSB scored three goals in the 57th, 64th, and 68th minute to tie the game up 3-3 and send it into overtime.
Santa Barbara’s first score came off the foot of freshman midfielder Maddie Gibson. Gibson gave that offensive spark that the Gauchos were desperately searching for, lining up to the left of the goal box about 25 yards out and sending it in the back of the net. This was Gibson’s first score of her collegiate career, putting UCSB on the board with the score 1-3.
The freshman midfielder was not done yet as Hromatko connected with Gibson in the 64th minute off a cross inside the box. Gibson was in the right place at the right time, redirecting a header past senior goalkeeper Cynthia Tafoya for the 2-3 score.
With the Matadors on their heels and the momentum on UCSB’s side, Ball took matters into her own hands in the 68th minute running from about 15 yards out and launching a line drive past a diving Tafoya for the 3-3 equalizer.
Sending the match into extra minutes, the Gauchos looked to be the favorites during the first moments of overtime but could not capitalize on their attacks. After three corner kicks and a shot on goal by Hromatko in the 91st minute, the match ultimately came down to a penalty kick for CSUN by junior midfielder Kourtney Kutscher.
Kutscher lined up for a one on one versus Ritter and sneaked a shot past the veteran goalkeeper to win the game. The overtime score was her fifth goal on the year, sending her senior teammates home with a 4-3 victory.
Despite starting the year with a 0-2-1 record, UCSB now holds the No. 2 seed in the Big West Tournament. With the regular season finished, the Gauchos shift their focus onto postseason play, advancing to their first Big West Tournament since 2009. UCSB’s rematch versus third-seeded Cal State Fullerton will take place on Thursday, Nov. 5th at Titan Stadium. The semifinal match will be broadcasted on ESPN3 with a start time of 7:30 p.m.