Gauchos beaten by Irvine in Big West semis

UCSB's Kevin Garcia-Lopez races down the sideline with Irvine's Matt Tilley. (Presidio Sports Photo)

UCSB’s Kevin Garcia-Lopez races down the sideline with Irvine’s Matt Tilley. (Presidio Sports Photo)


UC Irvine’s bus crashed before the game, the Anteaters conceded an early Gaucho goal, and after fighting hard to get a lead, UC Irvine allowed UCSB to tie the game at 2-2.

But the visiting Anteaters overcame each one of these obstacles and continued its dominance over UCSB in the Big West Conference Tournament, winning 3-2 on Wednesday night at Harder Stadium.

“I never saw our guys’ heads drop. That just shows the character and the fight of our guys,” said UC Irvine Head Coach Chris Volk. “I think there’s maybe only one time this season where we got down a little bit, and we vowed not to let that happen [again], and we didn’t tonight. So, I’m proud of that effort.”

The Anteaters improved to 4-0 against UCSB in Big West Conference Tournament play, and 10-1 all-time in the postseason.

UC Irvine was able to avenge its October 4 loss against UCSB, which saw Gaucho forward Nick DePuy win the game with 36 seconds left.

“To be able to get a chance to come back here, and make up for it [the loss] was great,” said UC Irvine forward Cameron Iwasa. “And obviously coming out with the win was huge.”

UCSB was able to get on the scoreboard a lot sooner in this game.

Drew Murphy converted a first minute penalty kick, after a handball by Anteaters’ Gerardo Gonzalez, to give the Gauchos the early lead. Murphy sent the goalkeeper diving the wrong way, and calmly slotted his penalty kick into the bottom right corner.

UCSB had many quality chances in the first half to extend its lead, but was unable to do so. The Gauchos allowed the Anteaters to stick in the game, and paid for it in the 38th minute.

Matt Tilley headed in a Gor Kirakosyan corner kick to tie the game at 1-1. It was Tilley’s second career collegiate goal, and second in as many games, after he scored in UC Irvine’s 2-0 victory over Sacramento State on Saturday.

Before Tilley’s equalizing goal, the Gauchos had chances to put the visiting Anteaters away.

Four minutes after Murphy’s goal, Ismaila Jome played a through ball to Nick DePuy, but his one-on-one shot was straight at UC Irvine goalkeeper Michael Breslin.

Andy Perez’s close range shot was blocked by the face of Breslin, and DePuy’s free header sailed just over the crossbar.

“It’s four, five looks, and we didn’t put them away,” said UCSB Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg. “Consequently, we gave them life.”

“To me, this game was won and lost in the first fifteen, twenty minutes [with the missed chances],” said Vom Steeg.

But, with UC Irvine’s equalizing goal, UCSB had to settle for 1-1 heading into halftime, ruing its missed scoring chances.

In the second half, it was the visiting Anteaters who came out strong.
UC Irvine scored under two minutes into the second half to take a 2-1 lead. UCSB gave the ball away poorly, and Iwasa beat two Gaucho defenders, before slotting his shot into the bottom right corner of the goal.

The Anteaters’ lead was shortlived, as the Gauchos responded with a goal of their own less than two minutes later.

Andy Perez was played through on the right side of the 18-yard box, and his inward touch evaded a diving Breslin. Axel Mendez was there to collect the ball, and place it into the back of the net.

DePuy had a chance to regain the lead for the Gauchos, after Jome again played him in at goal, but his shot was deflected barely over by a sliding UC Irvine defender.

But, UC Irvine took advantage of another Gaucho mistake, when Dennis Martinez scored off a pass from Gonzalez in the 82nd minute, giving the Anteaters a 3-2 lead.

From there on, the Anteaters were able to hold on for the impressive road victory, and hand UCSB only its second home loss of the season.

UC Irvine made UCSB pay not only for the missed scoring chances, but for its defensive mistakes as well.

“We had two bad giveaways [that led to goals], in terms of our possession out of midfield,” said Vom Steeg. “We allowed them to run at us.”

“If you’re playing in games like tonight, mistakes are huge,” said Vom Steeg. “I thought Irvine capitalized on three mistakes, or at least two.”

UC Irvine labored into the Big West Tournament, losing four of its last five matches, and losing its number one seed in the Big West South Division on the last game of the regular season.

But, the Anteaters have turned things around, winning two postseason games to advance to the Big West Conference Tournament Championship game. The Anteaters will vie for their second consecutive Big West Tourney Championship.

In the Championship match, UC Irvine will host Cal State Fullerton, who defeated UC Riverside 3-0 in the other semifinal match, on Saturday night at 7 p.m. The Anteaters have defeated the Titans two times this season, both by narrow 1-0 margins.

“[It’s] definitely good to have a home game for the final,” said Iwasa. “Last year, we were able to take care of it at home, so hopefully we can do it again. So far this year we are 2-0 against Fullerton, but we definitely can’t overlook them. They are a good team, they’ve been playing really well. It’s going to be a battle.”

With the loss, UCSB’s season is essentially over. The Gauchos have little hope of receiving an at-large bid for the 48 team NCAA Tournament. In general, teams hoping for an at-large bid need a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of better than 40. The RPI takes into consideration a team’s record and strength of schedule. Going into the game tonight, UCSB was ranked 47th in RPI.

UCSB graduates only four seniors, and will return the large majority of its squad next season, on top of the incoming recruits.

“We will be bringing in what I think is the next great recruiting class. We’ve got five to seven players that are coming, and we think they are great players. We think that they will compete with these [current] players. And, in the middle of all that competition, we will be better in the end.”

“I’m excited about the players we have in our program,” said Vom Steeg. “I’m excited about the growth these players went through this season, because there was some challenges. But, obviously we are equally excited by the fact that UCSB soccer is in a really, really good place right now. We are able to attract really, really good, young, excellent soccer student-athletes.”

UCSB will surely be disappointed that its season has essentially come to an end, but it has a lot to build on for the future going forward.