Senior forward Nikki McCants’ goal in the 88th minute sealed a tense victory for the Cal State Fullerton women’s soccer team over UC Santa Barbara on Sunday night.
The win snaps a two-game losing streak for the Titans and moves them just two points behind UC Riverside for the all-important fourth position in the Big West Conference.
Having gone two straight matches without a goal, the women of CSUF came out firing from the opening whistle of their home contest with the Gauchos of UCSB. But despite outshooting their opponent 10-1 in the match’s opening frame, the Titans found themselves once again unable to find that elusive goal through the initial 45 minutes. They came close less than 10 minutes in.
Controlling the ball effectively to start the match, the Titans did well early to spread out the Gaucho defense by changing the point of attack to either flank as often as possible. Taking advantage of this space on outside, freshman forward Ivy Diego won a Titan corner kick just nine minutes in, resulting in the Titans’ best opportunity of the half.
From the corner, a brief interchange of play between midfielders Morgan Batcheller and Lauren Stupin led to a shot by Stupin from the right side of the Gaucho 18-yard box. Cutting the ball back to her left foot, Stupin curled a ball onto the UCSB crossbar and out of play.
The near miss in the first half was all too familiar for the Titans, since they have failed to score in five matches in 2013. But seemingly unfazed, CSUF came out in the second half with the same fire they exhibited to start the match and in the end, the Titan seniors managed to push the team over the hump.
“I was incredibly impressed with the first half,” Titan Head Coach Demian Brown said. “Obviously to go 0-0 we felt like we could have done more, we tweaked around a couple of different things just to be more aggressive in the beginning of second half and then made a change to bring Nikki back on and obviously she hasn’t been in the best form, but as seniors most often do, they find a way to make sure that their senior year is what they want it to be.”
Repaying her coach’s faith in her, McCants could have easily ended the match with her first and second goals of the season had it not been for the great reflexes of Gaucho sophomore goalkeeper Beth Ritter, who finished the match with 10 saves.
With chances coming fast and furious from both sides near the end of the second half, McCants had the best opportunity for either side to open the scoring in the 80th minute.
Racing on to a ball over the top from Titan midfielder Chelsey Patterson, McCants fended off a Gaucho defender and got off a slightly off-balance shot that Ritter just managed to get down to block but only as far as onrushing Titan midfielder Janali West.
Unfortunately for the Titans, while West was able to sidestep the Gaucho goalkeeper just inside the penalty area, a defender had recovered in time to turn away West’s shot near the UCSB goal line.
“I was just thinking the goalie’s out, this is our chance, so I cut it past (the goalkeeper) and took a shot at the goal. I slipped a little and there was a defender in the goal and she kicked it out unfortunately but I knew a goal was coming,” said West of her near goal.
Luckily for CSUF, West was correct in thinking it was only a matter of time before the Titans score, as less than eight minutes later a CSUF corner taken from the left side by senior midfielder Erica Mazeau handcuffed Ritter, forcing her to attempt a feeble punch to clear. The Gaucho goalkeeper’s weak clearance looped straight in the air, allowing McCants the opportunity to spin and volley the ball home from close range.
“It’s a great relief to finally get a goal because that’s my first goal and to bring a win for my team,” said McCants of her game-winning goal. “Just the effort of everybody was great and just the vibe was good, we knew that we were going to score a goal eventually. It was just a great feeling.”
With the win, CSUF improves to 2-2-1 in Big West play and pulls closer to the final Big West tournament spot with just three conference matches remaining. The Titans will be back in action in a week with the opportunity to move even closer to the coveted fourth spot when they take on second-to-last UC Davis at home on Oct. 27.
For more information on the CSUF men’s soccer team and all Titan Athletics, go to FullertonTitans.com.