Saturday night, junior Tony Lochhead and senior forward Neil Jones sat and watched their teammates beat Riverside thanks to one-game suspensions inflicted by five yellow cards on the season. Wednesday night, Lochhead and Jones were back, and with vengeance on their mind.
The two connected for the lone goal of the night, a Jones header off Lochhead’s corner kick in the 72nd minute to propel the Gauchos to a 1-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton at Harder Stadium.
“Neil was the biggest guy in the box, so naturally I was looking for him, and fortunately, he put it in,” Lochhead said.
Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg opted to place Lochhead in the midfield for the first time this year, a move that proved crucial to the game. Not only did Lochhead register the only assist on the night, he was everywhere for the Gauchos, firing five shots and coming inches away from another assist on a cross to junior forward Drew McAthy, whose header sailed slightly above the crossbar.
“When someone sits out a game, you look at everything differently. This team dominated us in the middle last time, so we wanted to be stronger there. Saturday, I looked at our back and knew we were solid there,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re trying to put something together for the playoffs now.”
While the playoffs loom near, the Gauchos still have their sights set on their holding court in the Big West. Cal State Northridge made matters tough for the Gauchos, though, by beating Cal Poly last night 4-2.
With one game remaining in conference play, UCSB still trails Northridge by one point. To be the sole champions, UCSB must now beat Irvine on the road Saturday and Northridge must either tie or lose at Cal State Fullerton. A UCSB tie combined with a Northridge loss would knot the teams atop the Big West with 20 points, earning each team a co-champion title.
Santa Barbara produced one of their better defensive performances against the Titans, shutting out an opponent for the first time since Sept. 28 against Sacramento State. The only legitimate chance the Titans had in the entire game came in the first half, when sophomore defender Pat Scott misplayed a ball in the back, but Fullerton forward Hector Orellana was stifled by junior goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
“That was about as dominant as we’ve been in back this year,” Vom Steeg said. “Other than that one play, I don’t think they had much going for them tonight.”
Offensively, the Gauchos applied pressure all night long but could only manage the one goal. UCSB took 19 shots, while Fullerton totaled just seven. All things considered though, the Gauchos will take the victory without a grain of salt.