SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – North Division champion UC Santa Barbara was knocked out of the Big West Tournament on Wednesday night after suffering a 2-1 loss to visiting Cal State Fullerton in the semifinal round of the annual tourney.
The Gauchos (10-7-3) fought hard, putting in a solid second half that culminated in Kevin Feucht's 11th goal of the season, but ultimately couldn't overcome a two-goal deficit. Despite notching a fourth consecutive Big West regular season championship, the Gauchos are unlikely to advance to the NCAA Tournament due to an RPI in the mid-80s range.
The Titans (10-8-4) meanwhile advance to the Big West Championship, which will be played on Saturday evening at Cal State Northridge. In last year's Big West title game at Harder Stadium, Cal State Fullerton pulled out a 1-0 win against the Gauchos.
"We picked a bad night to not play very well," said UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg. "We were a little flat at the start and just couldn't get things going. We fought, as this team has done all year, and then we get the goal back in the second half. We had enough looks to try and tie that game and go to overtime, but it just didn't happen."
In contrast to last year's hot start by UCSB in the Big West Championship, it was the Titans who asserted themselves early on Wednesday with a strong first half.
Forward Rei Dorwart capitalized on that momentum in the ninth minute for CSF, playing a 1-2 with teammate Ruben Alvarez at the top of the UCSB box before driving a shot into the top right corner past keeper Brandon Berke, who started in place of the injured Titouan Le Roux.
The Titans kept it rolling in the first half despite not extending their lead, outshooting UCSB 8-3 with none of the Gaucho attempts going on frame.
Knowing their season was on the line, the home side came out with an agressive approach in the second half. Unfortunately, a defensive lapse extended their deficit.
CSF midfielder Robert Coronado started the play by serving into the box from the right side in the 50th minute. The Gauchos attempted to clear the cross out, but their header bounced off another defender and landed right at the feet of Ross McPhie, who was able to quickly slot to Berke's left to make it 2-0.
Right after that score, UCSB threw caution to the wind and started committing more players forward, resulting in their best period of the game.
Their hard work paid off in the 64th minute when freshman forward Noah Billingsley was able to get around his defender down the right wing and send in a low cross through the six-yard box. CSF keeper Davis Elias came out to try and block the cross, but only got a piece of it before Feucht, the Big West Midfielder of the Year, pounced on it and tapped it in to the net.
UCSB had a pair of golden opportunities to tie the game in the ensuing 10 minutes following Feucht's score.
Billingsley had the team's best look, getting his head on a pass while in the six, but his shot went just wide of the far post.
A few moments later, Feucht was able to get a left-footed volley on a bouncing ball from close range, but it climbed just over the bar.
With the Titans holding everyone back, UCSB dominated possession in a frenzied final three minutes, leading to a couple corners and an ambitious header from Nick DePuy, but ultimately the Gauchos couldn't produce the needed equalizer.
The loss represented the first time Sept. 29 that the Gauchos allowed more than one goal in a game. This is the 14th year out of the last 15 that UCSB has played postseason soccer.