FRESNO, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos women's soccer team (6-1-0) came back for the second straight game in a row as they defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs (1-4-1) 2-1 at the Fresno State Soccer & Lacrosse Field on Thursday night.
Fresno State started attacking the Gauchos from kickoff, forcing a save from junior goalkeeper Hanna DeWeese just 47 seconds into the match off a shot from Bulldog defender Emma Chivers.
It didn't take much longer for the home side to open the scoring, as midfielder Melissa Ellis attempted to send a cross along the ground from the right side of the Gaucho penalty area into the middle of the six yard box for a teammate making a run, but it evaded every player in the area before trickling in to the far post.
The Bulldogs' goal, coming inside of two minutes, was the earliest goal conceded by the Gauchos this season.
"We talk about weathering the storm in the early going, but here we put ourselves into the storm by not playing direct early," UCSB Head Coach Paul Stumpf said, "We put ourselves under pressure with our early decisions, but the team could tell themselves 'We have 87 minutes, it's still early in the game. Let's figure this out.'"
The Gauchos came close to levelling the scoreline several times throughout the first half. In the tenth minute, senior right back Mallory Hromatko put in a ground cross from the right wing into the six yard box, but senior midfielder Madeline Gibson was unable to get a clean strike on it.
Junior forward Shaelan Murison had similarly good chances twice in the first half. Her first opportunity came in the 34th minute as she found herself on the right side of the Fresno State penalty area one-on-one with goalkeeper Nicole Theroux, but her shot went into the side netting.
Her second look came right before halftime in the 44th minute, as she fired a shot that thumped against the crossbar and kept the advantage with Fresno State as both teams headed to the locker rooms.
After the break, the tide began to turn in the visitors' favor.
In the 51st minute, Gibson zipped a cross into the Fresno State 18-yard box that was deflected towards the top of the box for senior left back Ryan Kokoska to hit with the inside of her right foot to tie the game with her first career goal.
In a season in which seniors have scored big goals for the Gauchos several times already, it was only right for two of them to connect for the equalizer.
"It was a very, very good finish – and with her non-dominant foot as well. We were overjoyed that she scored, and especially for it to come from a defender – it was surprising how well she hit it," Stumpf commented.
The Gauchos were awarded a penalty after senior forward Jessica Parque was fouled on the left side of the box as she was trying to get on the end of a cross in the 75th minute. Up stepped Murison, who coolly slotted the ball to the left of Bulldog goalkeeper Marie Berwinkel-Kottman to collect her sixth goal of the season and give the Gauchos their first lead of the night.
"Not only does she have an abundance of skill and technical ability, she's got that striker's mentality. She goes up there and picks her spot. She was approaching the spot and saw the goalkeeper diving early so she just sent the ball the other way."
As the Bulldogs were chasing for a second goal, DeWeese, in her first career start, made three saves in the final 11 minutes to preserve the Gaucho lead. Perhaps the biggest was her save on Fresno State's forward Ele Avery with just over ten minutes to go after the ball bounced dangerously in the box from a long front-flip throw-in for Avery to shoot point blank at the Carlsbad, Calif. native.
UCSB's win tonight was their second come-from-behind victory in a row and their second true road win this season, as both games to open the season at the UNLV Invitational were on a neutral site.
"They're resourceful," Stumpf said of his team, "they've got enough character to stay in the fight and keep working. They're just doing a good job of putting away their chances."
The Gauchos do not return to action until 6:30 p.m. on Friday, September 14 when they play at Weber State. That match is the first of two in the final weekend of their five-game road trip.