SACRAMENTO, Calif. – In a battle between the top two teams in the Big West North, UC Santa Barbara outlasted Sacramento State in a 1-0 shutout to wrap up the program's fourth consecutive division title and a bye in the first round of the Big West Tournament.
As has been the case many times over the past month, it was junior forward Ahinga Selemani who provided the heroics for UCSB (10-5-3, 6-0-3) on Wednesday afternoon.
The striker, who entered the game with four goals and nine points in his last six games, collected a pass from Jan Ilskens above the box in the 81st minute then drilled a left-footed shot into the top right corner for his seventh goal of the year and conference-leading fourth game-winner.
The division crown comes with a bye in the first round of the conference tourney, meaning that the Gauchos' first game of the postseason will be played at Harder Stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 9 against the winner of the quarterfinal game between the second seed in the South and the third seed in the North.
Selemani's goal wouldn't have meant much without a stellar defensive effort from the Gauchos, who nailed down their fifth shutout of the year despite being down two starters on the backline in left back Randy Mendoza (yellow card accumulation) and center back Daniel Amo (injury).
UCSB managed an aggressive and high-pressing Sacramento State (8-7-2, 4-4-1) team that knew it needed a win out of Wednesday's game to stay alive in the North title hunt. The Gauchos pulled out all the stops in the final 20 minutes of the game – including moving All-American forward Nick DePuy to center back – and held the Hornets off the board to nail down their second straight clean sheet while extending the team's shutout streak to a season-long 285:22 minutes.
Sac State pushed everyone forward after Selemani's go-ahead tally resulting in four shots and a pair of chances, but UCSB was able to fend off the home team each time. The Hornets' two best chances down the stretch came on Andrew Gosselin's near-range header right after the Gauchos went ahead and Alex Bettencourt's free kick from 22 yards in the dying seconds of the game that was curled too wide.
UCSB goalie Titouan Le Roux, who has played an NCAA-high 1698:12 minutes despite being a true freshman, was a key figure in the shutout as well with four saves.
The Gauchos, who have now won 10 games in 16 consecutive seasons, wrap up their regular season schedule against UC Davis at Harder Stadium on Sunday afternoon, with kickoff scheduled for 2:00 p.m. They will enjoy a week off during the first weekend of the Big West Tournament before resuming action on Nov. 9.