Chants of “We’re #1!” erupted among the players as a Big West regular season champion was crowned, but yesterday at Harder Stadium, those jubilant players and fans wore green.
Billed as the match that would award the Big West Tournament’s #1 seed, and with it home-field advantage throughout, visiting Cal Poly (13-5-0 overall, 7-1-0 in Big West) seized the opportunity and handed the homesteading Gauchos (8-9-2, 5-2-1) a 2-0 defeat. Yesterday’s result coupled with Cal State Northridge’s 1-0 win over Long Beach State will have UCSB enter the Big West Tournament with the #3 seed, and UCI captures the postseason’s final slot at #4.
“It was what it was,” junior defender Julia Speace said. “They had a really balanced attack, good defenders. We had our fair share of shots but just didn’t put them away. They had their shots, and they did put them away.”
After honoring senior forward Genelle Ives, senior midfielder Sarah Stoltz and junior keeper Tammy Lenham in a pregame Senior Day ceremony, UCSB and Cal Poly took the field for a first 45 filled with decent chances and physical play.
The Gauchos outshot Cal Poly 10-5 by intermission, but only one of those offerings were on frame. Neither team seemed intent on overextending themselves for an early goal, playing fairly conservatively. This suited the Mustangs just fine, as Cal Poly could have settled for the draw and still won the Big West.
While Poly’s defense was key in securing a 0-0 halftime score, it was their offense that finally broke the stalemate.
After playing 25 more minutes of scoreless soccer out of the locker rooms, sophomore midfielder Tiffany Gummow warded off three Gaucho defenders just outside the box before slotting a beautiful strike past Lenham into the upper left corner. Gummow now leads her team with five goals on the year.
Up 1-0, all the visitors needed to do was pack it in on defense, but a Gaucho foul just outside the box by sophomore defender Alexa Stringer in the 88th minute gave Cal Poly an opportunity to go up 2-0. Living dangerously with only three in the back at that point, UCSB ran the risk of giving up a second goal, and Mustang senior defender Kristina Condon-Sherwood obliged them with a score.
“That was a really nice free kick they had at the last minute,” said Speace. “That one was earned.”
It wasn’t that UCSB didn’t have their chances. The Gauchos won the shot battle 24-13 — six of which were on frame — and earned a 9-2 corner kick advantage, but they simply could not fool senior keeper Coral Hoover.
Hoover entered the afternoon contest riding a six-game shutout streak, a streak she extended to seven games Sunday. Unfortunately for UC Santa Barbara, this also was the end of their six-game conference win streak.
“I think we actually played really well,” Speace said. “The coaches thought we played well. … We’ll take care of Cal Poly when we need to.”
If UCSB is to earn a rematch with their Central Coast rival, they will need to take care of business this Thursday at Northridge in the Big West Tournament Semifinals.