With its first conference road win this season, the UCSB men’s soccer team clinched the Big West North Division yesterday, defeating Cal Poly 2-0 thanks to sophomore forward Nick DePuy’s first career brace.
Picking up just their second win away from Harder Stadium all year, the Gauchos improved to 9-6-3 overall and 5-2-2 in the conference, giving them sole possession of first place in the North. With its fourth straight game without a win, a struggling Mustang side continued to hurt its chances of making the Big West Tournament, falling to 8-6-4 overall and 3-4-2 in Big West.
Although UC Davis can still tie UCSB’s record before the season ends this week, the Gauchos own the tiebreaker with the Aggies on intra-division goals (third tiebreaker after head-to-head record and head-to-head goal differential). This gives them some much needed home-field advantage throughout the Big West Tournament as well as a first round bye, marking the 12th time in the last 13 years that the team has made the tournament.
While the Gauchos outshot Cal Poly 30-10 the last time these two teams met less than two weeks ago, last night told a much different story as the Mustangs ended the game leading 13-12 in shots. It wouldn’t matter though, as UCSB’s early offensive efficiency was enough to get them the win in front of a sold out Mustang crowd.
In the 7th minute of the game, freshman forward Ludwig Ahl flicked a ball into the box that found DePuy, who was able to fire a shot inside the left post to beat junior goalkeeper Wade Hamilton, who leads the Big West in saves this year by a wide margin.
It didn’t take long before the Gauchos’ two offensive leaders this season produced again, as Ahl connected with DePuy in the 22nd minute to put the team up 2-0. A cross from Ahl setup DePuy for a header from about three yards out to give the Irvine native his team-leading eighth goal of the year.
DePuy has been in scorching form ever since the season’s first meeting between UCSB and Cal Poly. With four goals in his last three games, he has jumped to second in the conference in goals this season; not too bad for a player who wasn’t even listed as a forward at the beginning of the year.
The Mustangs’ best chance to score came in the form of a penalty in the 86th minute. However, UCSB’s freshman goalkeeper Brandon Berke made a diving effort to save the attempt by junior midfielder Matt LaGrassa, improving his individual record this season to 7-3-2 and giving his team their fourth shutout this season and first on the road.
While little went wrong for the Gauchos as they earned back-to-back shutouts for the first time in 2014, they did pick up one red card with sophomore forward Armand Bagramyan in the 73rd minute.
Ever since coming off their worst slump of the year, going 0-3-1 on a four-game road trip, the Gauchos have been the hottest team in the conference. In its last four games, Santa Barbara is 3-0-1 and has outscored opponents 9-2 during that stretch.
With its last game of the regular season on Wednesday against Sacramento State being reduced to nothing more than a final tune-up for the postseason, UCSB will now look forward to the following Wednesday when they host the Big West Semi-Finals. A record of 7-1-2 at Harder Stadium gives the Gauchos great excitement headed into the playoffs, as their hard-earned home-field advantage gives them what they feel is the best chance of any team to win the conference and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Cal Poly needs a win and a Sacramento State loss in the final week of play in order to qualify for the Big West Tournament.
The game with Sacramento State will begin at 2:00 p.m. this Wednesday at Hornet Soccer Stadium.