MSoc: Selemani’s goal lifts Gauchos into Big West final

Ahinga Selemani - UCSB

Ahinga Selemani score the game-winning goal for the Gauchos in the 79th minute. (Presidio Sports File Photo)

UCSB soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg called Ahinga Selemani the team’s X factor going into the post season.

The “X” marked a spot in the back of the net late in the second half of Wednesday’s Big West Tournament semifinal game and it produced a “W” for the Gauchos.

Selemani’s goal in the 79th minute lifted UCSB to a 1-0 victory over a stubborn UC Davis team before 2,900 fans at Harder Stadium and put the Gauchos into Saturday’s championship game. They’ll host Cal State Fullerton, a 3-1 winner over Cal Poly in the other semifinal game, for the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament berth.

Kevin Feucht played a short pass to Selemani, who took a couple of dribbles before unleashing a left-footed bullet past Davis defenders and goalkeeper Kris Schultz. It was the first goal scored by UCSB in the run play in the three meetings between the teams. UCSB’s goals in its two regular-season wins came on Feucht penalty kicks.

“Any time you play a team that if it loses it’s season is over, you’re going to get everything they have,” Vom Steeg said of the Aggies. “They’re a tough team to play against, they defend well, they try to take advantage of your mistakes, they counter well, they got pace out wide. And, of course, they’re always dangerous on set pieces. So, until you put a couple of balls away, it’s going to be scary the whole game.”

There were a couple of instances where the Aggies had chances to score first. In the 15th minute, forward Miguel Acevedo broke free on the left side of the box. But UCSB’s right back Fuad Adeniyi raced over from his left back position and denied a shot.

In the 55th minute, the Gauchos needed the long arm of goalkeeper Justin Vom Steeg to deflect a header by Kristian Heptner off the post. Two minutes later, Vom Steeg stretched to deflect a dangerous crossing ball headed toward an open Aggies player at the far post.

“Early in the second half, I thought we were doing really well. We were putting them under pressure,” said UC Davis coach Dwayne Shaffer.

The Gauchos finally broke the organized Davis defense on a simple one-two passing combination between Feucht and Selemani. With the defenders staying back, Selemani wound up and blasted the shot.

“He cut inside and hit an unexpected shot,” Shaffer said. “When one of our guys makes a shot like that, it’s a great shot. When the other team scores, it’s a lucky shot. That was not lucky. That was a great goal.”

The goal was extra special for Ahinga because he’d missed most of the week of practice with an injured knee.

“My goal was to get as many chances as I could,” he said of playing in the game. “I hadn’t had much training this week and it was tough to get into rhythm. So, yesterday it was nice getting with the guys and the group. Coming of the bench was a smart idea by coach.”

Bringing Ahinga and outside back Ismaila Jome off the bench provided the Gauchos with a huge boost.

“We’ve lost this game the last two years,” Vom Steeg noted. “This is the first time I can remember we’ve gone into the Big West Tournament with a full complement of players. So, if you’re able to bring a Ahinga and Ish off the bench in a game like tonight and rotate them around, then I think you’re able to wear down the other team. I think that’s what the second half was. They got tired and we were able to press a little bit. We needed one good shot and one good play and Ahinga got that for us tonight.”

Duncan Backus, who played in the defensive midfield spot, said it felt good to finally win a playoff game at home. “We’ve had so many letdowns in front of our fans. To finally get into the Big West final, it’s a new experience for all of us but we’re really looking forward to it.

“It’s a big opportunity for us to really make a statement and make some noise going into the NCAA Tournament,” he added. “If we get this win, there are a lot of rewards that come with it.”

UCSB improves to 13-5-2 while UC Davis ends its season at 8-10-3.