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SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team had to wait to learn what its path to the final in the Big West Conference Tournament would look like, but the Gauchos' (11-3-4, 4-1-2 Big West) 2-0 defeat of Cal Poly on Saturday night at the Alex G. Spanos Stadium and results elsewhere going their way earned them the second seed in the upcoming conference tournament.
Senior striker Will Baynham and junior right winger Rodney Michael combined for both goals, through the second was ruled an own goal, while sophomore goalkeeper Ben Roach made a season and career-high ten saves in the match.
"It felt great to have three or four days of practice and have a lot of players back. This group has been very focused and has been a very disciplined group. We set a goal of getting three shutouts to finish the season on the road. I'm very happy for our players and very happy that we put in the performance that we did today," said head coach Tim Vom Steeg.
Baynham scored the first goal in the 21st minute after freshman attacking midfielder Finn Ballard McBride shoved the ball out to Michael on the right wing, where he threaded a through ball past Cal Poly midfielder Enrique Bustamante into Baynham's stride, which the Australian controlled and slotted past Mustang goalkeeper Carlos Arce-Hurtado on his right foot.
The move was first created when senior attacking midfielder Thibault Candia tracked back into midfield and won the ball for the Gauchos, which enabled the sequence to reach the attackers.
In the 67th minute, senior left wingback Noah Billingsley hustled into the attacking half of the field and earned the ball off midfielder Angel De Leon, passing further up the field to Michael. The Freetown, Sierra Leone-native played the ball to the right side of the box for Baynham, who attempted to cross into the middle but had it deflected by a Cal Poly defender into the left side of the net to go ahead 2-0.
Roach shone brightly throughout the match as he achieved his ninth clean sheet of the season, but his best moment of the night was undoubtedly the triple save he pulled off on the attacking duo of Emmanuel Perez and Colin Hyatt in the 32nd minute.
Perez's initial shot inside the box was parried into the path of Hyatt, who fired from close range and was twice rejected by Roach.
The last time the Gauchos defeated Cal Poly twice in the regular season was 2006, in which they won the program's first and only NCAA College Cup.
UCSB was outshot 19-3 and only registered two shots on target, but both of those resulted in the goals that gave the Gauchos victory.
"Our game plan was to defend, keep them in front, and take the fans out of the game. When we take off on a team and get in the open field in transition, we're as good as anybody in the country. We thought the game plan was where we wanted it to be. I wasn't concerned about a shot total as much as taking advantage of opportunities in the open field," added the Gauchos' veteran head coach.
After the match, the Gauchos kept track of the other matches taking place in the conference to learn whether they would host a first round match or earn a bye.
With UC Irvine's home loss against CSUN, the Anteaters dropped out of the top two and made way for the Gauchos, earning them some much-needed rest before they play next weekend.
"Any chance that we get to give these players some time is critical at this point in the year. And another thing that we like is that these teams are playing on Wednesday night, and then for us it's Saturday night at Harder Stadium. There's also a responsibility that we feel that we have- we've been fairly futile in the Big West Tournament in the last few years. We'll take the week in training, continue to focus, and look to get a result on Saturday," finished Vom Steeg.
UCSB will go its second consecutive week with just a single match on the schedule, taking place on Saturday night at 7 p.m. against either the third-seeded UC Irvine Anteaters or the sixth-seeded CSUN Matadors. As always, a live stream and live stats will be available on the men's soccer schedule page.