Nov. 14, 2009
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - For the second consecutive year, UC Irvine (15-6-0) defeated UC Santa Barbara (15-4-2) in the Big West Conference Tournament final to earn the league's automatic berth into the 2009 NCAA Tournament. The Anteaters posted a 4-1 victory over the Gauchos, who were the regular season conference champions, on Saturday evening at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium.
The loss marked the Gauchos' first of the season to UC Irvine; they had defeated the Anteaters by a 1-0 margin during both of their previous meetings (Sept. 27 and Oct. 31). It was also the first loss at home for UCSB since Sept. 13.
UC Irvine - which had suffered through 192:56 scoreless minutes against the Gauchos this season - struck early in the game. In the 10th minute, Carlos Aguilar sent his corner kick to the far post where the ball was then flicked by Kevin Santora to Gray Bailey, who volleyed the ball in for his first goal of the season.
In the 21st minute, the Gauchos had a chance to even the score when a Danny Barrera's free kick was deflected off a UC Irvine defender to Martin Hedevag in the area. Hedevag shot the ball low, but it went just wide right.
Just four minutes later, Luis Silva stole the ball from Irvine in the midfield and fed it to David Walker, who was able to get behind the Irvine defenders in the box. Walker took a low shot, but Irvine goalkeeper Andrew Fontein charged and made the save.
In the 30th minute, a misstep by the Gaucho defense allowed the Anteaters to stretch their lead to 2-0. While the Gauchos had possession of the ball, they played it back to goalkeeper Sam Hayden, who fumbled the ball while out of the goal. Irving Garcia capitalized on the fumble, knocked the ball to himself and shot it into the empty goal.
"We knew they were going to come after our backline," said head coach Tim Vom Steeg. "The idea was to absorb it for the first 10 minutes and then settle into the game, but for some reason we started playing balls back to Sam, which was never part of our walkthrough and was out of character."
Trailing 2-0, things quickly went from bad to worse when Peter McGlynn was given a red card in the 37th minute, forcing the Gauchos to play a man-down the remainder of the match.
With just 3:15 to go in the first half, it looked as if the Gauchos' luck may be turning when Josue Madueno dribbled the ball through the box and then passed it to his left to Barrera. The sophomore shot the ball low only to see Fontein once again charge for the save and preserve the two-goal advantage heading into halftime.
Waid Ibrahim had the first good look of the second half when he shot the ball from 25 yards out. The shot was just off though, as the ball sailed over the top left corner of the Anteater goal.
Just three minutes later, a foul was called on the Gauchos inside the box and a penalty kick was awarded to Irvine. Aguilar sent the free kick to the bottom left corner of the UCSB goal as Hayden went right, stretching the Irvine lead to 3-0.
In the 75th minute, UCI's Spencer Thomas scored the Anteaters' fourth goal of the game when he got hold of a loose ball, dribbled it to 15 yards out and shot across the box to the left side of the goal.
Down, but not out, the Gauchos continued attacking. Finally, in the 83rd minute, they were able to prevent the shutout when Machael David crossed the ball from outside the box to the far post, where Tim Pontius headed it in for the goal.
Already down a man and three goals, UCSB took another blow when C.J. Cintas was given a red card in the 87th minute. The Anteaters got one more shot off in the final minute, but Hayden made his third save of the game and the score remained 4-1 as the final horn sounded.
Following the game, Aguilar was named the tournament MVP after tallying a goal and an assist in the win for UC Irvine.
The fourth-ranked Gauchos - who will likely make the NCAA Tournament field with an at-large bid - will have to wait until Monday to find out their postseason fate. UCSB will watch the NCAA selection show, which airs on ESPNews, on Monday at 2:30 p.m. in the Reitnouer Auditorium in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus.