SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Two second half goals propelled seventh-ranked UC Irvine to a Big West Conference victory over No. 7 UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium.
With the loss, UCSB falls to 6-3-1 overall and to 0-2 in Big West play. This marks the first time since the 2000 season that the Gauchos have dropped their first two league games. UC Irvine, which is the highest ranked opponent UCSB has faced so far this season, improves to 9-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big West.
After battling through 66 scoreless minutes, the Anteaters were finally able to break through in the 67th minute. Jimmy Tuner got the ball on the left side of the field and connected with Miguel Ibarra, who shot a gorgeous arching shot from 25 yards out to upper right corner of the Gaucho goal.
UCI then added insult to injury in the 80th minute when Marco Franco sent a cross from the right side of the field. Lester Hayes III, who was waiting near the right post, headed the ball to the left side of the goal to stretch the Anteater lead to 2-0.
UCSB and UCI were evenly matched throughout the first half. Sam Garza and Dom Sarle each got a pair of low shots off in the first 15 minutes, but Anteater goalkeeper Andrew Fontein came up with the save both times.
In the 27th minute, Ibarra had a shot on-frame from the left side, but UCSB goalkeeper Andre Grandt blocked it. Jonathan Rivas headed the ball back towards the goal following the deflection, but Grandt was there to make the stop.
With 10 minutes to go in the half, James Kiffe fed a beautiful cross into the box and Tim Pontius got his head on it, but his shot went just wide of the right post and the teams went into the lockerrooms amidst a 0-0 deadlock.
Both squads came out of halftime rearing to go. In the 46th minute, Christopher Santana got the ball on a breakaway and fed it to Christian Hernandez, who was wide open on his left side. Hernandez shot the ball from point-blank range, but it went high.
Just a minute later, UCSB saw possibly its best chance to score when Michael Nonni took a point-blank shot of his own that was stopped by Fontein.
Less than a minute prior to the Anteaters' first goal, David Opoku sent a beautiful pass over the top of Dom Sarle, who was able to beat out his defender and send a shot towards the Irvine goal from inside the box. Fontein was able to get a hand on it though, and tipped it out of the field of play. The shot was the Gauchos' last on-frame during the game.
UCSB led the shot count by a narrow 12-11 margin with five coming on-goal. Garza and Ibarra led all players with three shots and two on-frame. Fontein ended the game with five saves while Grandt had two.
With the win, the Anteaters ended the Gauchos' home unbeaten streak at 16 matches. UCSB's last loss at Harder Stadium was on Sept. 10, 2010 against Creighton.
The Gauchos will look to bounce back against defending NCAA Champion Akron on Wednesday in a FOX Soccer Channel televised game at 7 p.m. at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium. To purchase tickets, visit the Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, call 805-893-UCSB or by clicking here.
UCSB Athletics would like to thank Santa Barbara Airbus for serving as Saturday night's game sponsor.