Gauchos, Anteaters clash in bounce-back match at Harder

Let the opening-night results show there will be no easy games in the Big West Conference this season.

UCSB’s 3-1 loss at UC Riverside and UC Irvine getting beat 1-0 at Cal Poly on Wednesday night are prime indicators the conference is a lot better this year.

Big West teams posted an impressive 33-16-8 record in non-conference games in September; UC Riverside was 5-2-1.

With the nationally ranked Gauchos (No. 7, 6-2-1) and Anteaters (No. 8, 8-2-0) coming off defeats, you can expect the emotions for an already heated rivalry to be kicked up a few more notches Saturday night at Harder Stadium.

With another big crowd expected, the atmosphere figures to be electric.

UCSB and UC Irvine have battled it out for the regular season and Big West Tournament titles the last three years. The Anteaters won the regular season last year but were upset by Cal State Fullerton in the tournament semifinals and denied a NCAA bid. UCSB captured the tourney title and the automatic NCAA berth.

In 2009, the Gauchos won the regular-season title but were beaten 4-1 by UC Irvine in the tournament final at Harder Stadium. In 2008, the Anteaters achieved the double — winning the regular season and beating the Gauchos in the conference tournament final.

The Anteaters are led by sophomore attacking midfielder Enrique Cardenas and senior forward Christian Hernandez with five goals each. Goalkeeper Andrew Fontein, a four-year starter, has 0.97 goals-against average.