Amaya Zabalza gets the ball around an opposing player. Stephen Manga/Daily Nexus

In the midst of the most important road stretch of the 2018-19 season, the Gauchos pulled off a dramatic late goal to beat the Highlanders 1-0 and hand the first place team its sole loss of the year.

UC Riverside dropped to 10-1-2 overall, 1-1-1 in Big West play on Sunday evening as the Gauchos bested an unbeaten Highlanders squad that was a heavily touted favorite entering the match. UCSB improved to 9-5 overall and 2-1 in conference play to take over the second place spot in the Big West standings while Riverside slid down the rankings to drop to No. 4 in the conference.

Heading into the match, the Highlanders were one of four teams that had remained unbeaten throughout this season. Riverside got off to a confident start as it peppered shots early, forcing junior Hanna DeWeese to make a lengthy save in the 12th minute to keep the game deadlocked at zero goals a piece.

“They started in the system that we expected, and then they made a very quick change that took us by surprise a little bit,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “This surface, it’s old, it’s very bouncy…it’s a hard place to play soccer, so we had to make an adjustment to our style a little bit as well.”

Of the seven shots that Riverside took in the first half, only one of them was on target. While the Highlanders bested UCSB on the offensive end, Santa Barbara matched its defensive intensity by not letting UCR get high percentage shots in the first half.

With game tied at 0-0 heading into the second half, once again Riverside came out firing as it blasted three shots within the first five minutes. Yet for a team that thrives in crunch time during half number two, the Highlanders were limited to just those three looks for the remainder of the entire second half until the final three minutes.

“I think they took most of their shots in the first 15 or 20 minutes,” Stumpf said. “Once we made our adjustments and clamped down, their looks kind of evaporated…I do think once we made our adjustments in our system, the game changed dramatically.”

The second half was dominated by the Gaucho attack as Santa Barbara fired eight shots at the goal, four of which were on target. Following a shot that sailed high from freshman standout Jessica Wright, Gaucho senior midfielder Jessica Clegg reentered the game for the final push from UCSB in the closing 10 minute frame.

Clegg flew down the sideline looking to make an immediate impact in the 84th minute. With a quick feed into the box, senior captain Shaelan Murison received the ball with space and fired off a strike into the bottom right-hand corner of the net to give the Gauchos a late 1-0 lead over the unbeaten Highlanders.

“We finally put our goal scorer in a position were she could get a decent look at the goal with a little bit of time and space. She maximized her opportunity…she had to put the ball into a corner with a good bit of pace, no doubt about it,” Stumpf said regarding the knockout punch from Murison.

Riverside managed to fire off a last-ditch attempt in the 87th minute, but the shot drifted high as the Gauchos became the first team this season to knock off the Highlanders who are unbeaten no more.

The finale of the 3-game road trip will take place next Sunday as the Gauchos travel to Cal State Long Beach to take on a 6-4-2 , 1-0-1 squad that looks to make a move up in the standings.

Quotes courtesy of KCSB Sports and UCSB Athletics