November 13, 2007

UCSB Wraps Up Fifth Big West Championship In Seven Years With 3-2 Victory At Cal State Northridge

Nov. 13, 2007

Box Score

NORTHRIDGE, Calif. - No. 9 UC Santa Barbara exorcised some demons, shaking off a sluggish start and a 2-0 hole to score the final three goals of the match and defeat Big West Conference rival Cal State Northridge 3-2 Tuesday afternoon at Matador Soccer Field. Chris Pontius scored two goals and Eric Avila recorded a pair of assists to lead UCSB to it first victory in Northridge since 2000.

After Saturday's come-from-behind win at Cal State Fullerton, the Gauchos needed just one win or tie in their final two matches to sew up their second consecutive Big West Conference Championship outright. Tuesday's title-clinching victory came against the Matadors, who were a very fitting opponent as the two teams have combined to win every league crown since 2001.

The Big West champs improved 9-1-1 in league play and can set a school record for conference wins with a victory against UC Riverside on Saturday. The Gauchos have won six straight and nine of their last 11 to improve to 11-3-3 overall this season. The season sweep of the Matadors was the first-ever for UCSB in the series.

The win was just the Gauchos' second in Northridge during head coach Tim Vom Steeg's tenure and first since the 2000 squad erased a 1-0 deficit to win 3-1.

Santa Barbara has made a habit of falling behind lately, coming back to win its previous three games after trailing 1-0. The trend looked to have reached disastrous proportions on Tuesday when Cal State Northridge scored it second goal in the 22nd minute. The Matadors' Sean Franklin worked a give-and-go with midfielder Devin Deldo and scored to give CSUN a 2-0 lead just 21:59 into the match.

The goal came less than 15 minutes after Northridge had scored 7:44 into the match. Forward Sunghyun Kim played a ball forward to Ben Cox, who one-timed a pass up for a streaking Deldo. Deldo then took two dribbles, slipping past the Gauchos' backline and chipped a ball over goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner's head.

At that point Ponitus and Avila were brought in off the bench and the Gauchos took over from there. Several of UCSB's regulars started the match on the sidelines, with Vom Steeg opting to start some of his reserves with fresher legs.

After Pontius and midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan failed to capitalize on early opportunities, a great individual effort by Avila led the Gauchos' first goal right before the half. After the 2007 M.A.C. Hermann Trophy candidate got the ball on the right side on a cross from Paul Kierstead, he dribbled towards the end line and cut towards the net before sending a perfect cross for Pontius at the far post. The Gauchos' leading scorer placed a header just inside the left post to cut the deficit in half at the 44:09 mark.

Only trailing a by a goal, the defending champs looked like a different team in the second half and tied the score less than five minutes in on another nifty pass by Avila. The San Diego native took a shot from the right side and, after it was cleared out right back to him, sent it back into the box for Tino Nuñez at the far post and the senior forward headed in his fifth goal of the season at the 49:21 mark.

UCSB continued to dictate the action and kept the pressure on the Matador defense until they were whistled for a foul in the box when Pontius was pulled down as he made an attempt to get a header on a ball. The junior forward was awarded the team's first penalty kick of the season and punched a low shot past Northridge keeper Kevin Guppy diving to his left to put the Gauchos up for good, 3-2.

The eventual game-winner was Pontius' conference-leading 11th goal of the season. The Yorba Linda, Calif. entered Tuesday's match ranked 43rd in the nation averaging 0.53 goals per game in 2007.

CSUN did its best to answer with the equalizer, but solid defensive play won out and UCSB held on for the historic victory.

"I am very, very pleased with our result here today," Vom Steeg said. "This has obviously been a difficult place to play for us over the years but I still felt good about our chances even down 2-0 because this team is playing extremely well right now and can find a way to win. I love the way we are playing going forward."

Santa Barbara outshot Northridge 23-8 for the game, including 13-2 in the decisive second half. The Gauchos have scored 15 of their 17 goals during their current six-match winning streak after halftime.

UCSB wraps up the regular season Saturday when UC Riverside visits Harder Stadium at 7:00 p.m. Santa Barbara will honor its six seniors with a ceremony prior to kickoff. The Gauchos will receive an automatic bid into a sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament and find out when and where they play when the tournament field is announced Monday, November 19 at 2:30 p.m. PT.

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