Oct. 6, 2007
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - After registering a hat trick in Wednesday's 4-0 win over UC Irvine, junior Chris Pontius came up big again, scoring the game-winner in the 78th minute to lift No. 12 UC Santa Barbara to 1-0 Big West Conference victory over visiting Cal State Fullerton Saturday night at Harder Stadium. The Gaucho defense continued to get the job done as well, holding a third consecutive opponent without a goal in the win.
With the victory, UCSB has now won three straight to open conference play and six of its last eight matches overall. The Gauchos, who stand at 6-2-2 overall and 3-0-0 in the Big West, have outscored league opponents 9-0 through three games in 2007. With the loss, Fullerton falls to 4-5-1 (0-2-1).
While the Titans were able to cool off an offense that entered Saturday's match on the heels of back-to-back 4-0 victories, Santa Barbara's recent hero came up with the game's only goal late in the match and UCSB's defense took care of the rest. Pontius has now scored a goal in the Gauchos' last four matches and leads the squad with eight through 10 games. The Yorba Linda, Calif. native, who had scored a total of four career goals prior to his junior campaign this season, has put in six of the team's last 10 goals over UCSB's current five match unbeaten streak.
"We didn't get the production out of our offense that we have been recently, but we kept attacking and one of the hottest players in the nation in Pontius finally got free in front of the net and came through," head coach Tim Vom Steeg said. "But again, our defense did the job and we won the type of close game that you have to win to be successful in this conference."
After several missed opportunities for the Gauchos, the game-winner finally came at the 77:13 mark. Junior midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan collected a ball that had been cleared on the left side and dribbled towards the end line. With his left foot, Motagalvan centered to the left post, where Pontius leapt and placed a header past Fullerton keeper Brent Douglas inside the far post to put Santa Barbara on top for good.
The score came as a relief after UCSB had come up empty on numerous scoring opportunities. While the shot totals were almost even after the first 45 minutes of play at 7-6, the Gauchos were definitely the aggressors in the first half. Senior forward Tino Nuñez, who had a game-high six shots, had great look in the 21st minute when he slipped through the Titan backline, but Douglas was there for the save. Nuñez had another chance less than two minutes later, but his back-heeled attempt went wide right. Santa Barbara's best opportunity of the opening period came in the 27th, when Nuñez found a streaking Brennan Tennelle with a beautiful cross all alone in front of the keeper, but his shot sailed high.
Cal State Fullerton's only quality opportunity of the first half came on a service into the box from defender Shay Spitz, but midfielder Andres Jarquin's header ricocheted off the cross bar and was cleared out.
The Gauchos came out of the locker room attacking and had an excellent chance to take the lead in the 53rd minute. After a Titan center back fell down, junior midfielder Eric Avila charged the loose ball in front of the box, but Douglas made a terrific diving save. Nuñez had a second chance when the rebound bounced out to the left side, but he too came up dry, rocketing a shot off the cross bar.
After a bending shot from sophomore midfielder Ciaran O'Brien narrowly missed from 35 yards out on the right side in the 74th, Motagalvan and Pontius connected on a scoring play for the second consecutive match and the Gauchos took the 1-0 lead less than four minutes later.
Fullerton nearly answered with the equalizer on the ensuing possession when forward Skyler Thuresson got a header on a corner kick off the foot of Ben Hofstetter, but his shot hit the right post.
UCSB's defense held on from there and the Gauchos won their third straight against Big West foes. Freshman goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner, who finished with three saves, and the Santa Barbara defense have now played over 322 minutes without allowing a goal, spanning their last four contests. The Gauchos have not given up a goal since Harvard took a 1-0 lead in the 58th minute September 23.
Douglas also finished with three saves for the Titans.
UCSB held a 17-10 shot advantage for the match and out-shot the visitors 10-4 in the decisive second half. Saturday night's contest featured 30 fouls and four cautions, with each side being whistled for two yellow cards apiece.
The Gauchos will look to keep rolling when they travel to rival Cal State Northridge Wednesday, October 10 for a 2:00 p.m. matinee.