Saturday night, the Gauchos were saved by some Pontius heroics in overtime. Déjà vu.
Taking a page out of his older brother’s playbook, sophomore defender Tim Pontius notched a game-winning 103rd minute header to exorcise some Orange County demons.
The last time #4 UCSB went to Anteater Stadium was last year’s Big West Tournament Final — a 4-2 debacle that was in no way as close as the score. With a chance to clinch a share of the Big West regular season title against the same UC Irvine squad that dethroned them last year, the Gauchos won a thrilling 1-0 double overtime decision this time around.
“It was a great win for us,” freshman midfielder Machael David said. “It was really huge.”
UCSB (13-3-1, 7-1-0 Big West) took 103 minutes to reach the board, going to the wire before avoiding only their second goose egg of the season. The #19 Anteaters (12-5, 5-3 in conference), meanwhile, became the eighth team in nine games to be shutout by a very stout Gaucho defense.
Junior goalkeeper Sam Hayden was again spectacular between the pipes, notching a season-high six saves and keeping the high-powered Irvine attack from finding a goal. However, efforts of the so-nicknamed “Superman” would have been in vain if not for a last-ditch goal from an unlikely source.
Pontius, whose older brother Chris is UCSB’s fifth all-time leading scorer, had yet to find the back of the net in his college career. How that changed is a bit of a mystery.
After a set piece, the ball cleared the box and appeared to be going out of bounds. Then, junior defender Martin Hedevag changed the course of the game.
“From out of nowhere,” David said, with a special emphasis on ‘nowhere,’ “Martin came from behind and knocked it back into the 18-yard box.
“Then, and we didn’t see him coming, Pontius appeared and just headed it into the net. It was crazy.”
When the ball finally crossed the goal-line, Santa Barbara had itself a 1-0 win and a dominating position in conference. With 21 points through eight games (and only one goal allowed to boot) UCSB needs only one point in its last two matches to clinch the regular season title and host the Big West Tournament. But that is not where the Gaucho’s aspirations stop.
“We’ve been working really hard. … We have a big chance of winning everything this year,” David said. “We have the team to do it this year, and we have a chance to do it.”
However, the Gauchos did put themselves in a tenuous position due to yellow-card accumulation in the match. Though no one received a fifth yellow (grounds for a one-game suspension), six UCSB players now sit at four yellows, and Santa Barbara has to be careful over the next few games or risk losing players for the Big West Tournament.
Up next for UCSB is a Wednesday match at Cal Poly. The Mustangs brought 11,075 fans to Alex G. Spanos Center last time these teams met up in San Luis Obispo, and they are desperately clinging to Big West Title hopes at this stage in the season. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.