The Cal Poly men’s soccer team (11-3-5, 5-1-4 Big West) hosted the first round of the Big West Conference Tournament for the first time in six years on Saturday afternoon and beat UC Irvine 1-0.
Cal Poly was second in Big West North Division standings after conference play, while UC Irvine (5-11-4, 3-5-2) finished third in the South Division. Cal Poly tied the program’s single-season record with 11 wins during a season.
After only five minutes of play, junior midfielder Justin Dhillon seized on an opportunity to score, heading in a pass from freshman forward George Grote. The goal was Dhillon’s third of the season and eighth overall as a Mustang.
“I think we had a set piece kind of far out, swung it in and the ball was fortunate to bounce out to George Grote.” Dhillon said. “He just locked eyes with me and picked me out. From there, it was pretty easy from inside the (six-yard-box). Credit to George on that one.”
Senior goalkeeper Wade Hamilton recorded seven saves during his 67th career start and logged his seventh shutout of the year. Hamilton is just one shutout away from Cal Poly’s single-season record.
“Irvine did a good job playing against us, getting behind us and creating opportunities,” Hamilton said. “You try to get the ball up and out, but if you can’t, it ended up being a corner kick.”
Despite the win on Saturday, first-year head coach Steve Sampson said the Mustangs could do a better job of controlling the ball when passing and dribbling.
“We did not possess the ball today the way we normally like to possess the ball,” Sampson said. “Obviously, the opponent had a lot to do with that. But I believe when we get on a bigger field like we’re going to see at Fullerton, that tends to be an advantage for us. I believe that this team has yet to play its best soccer.”
The Mustangs now advance to the Big West Conference Tournament semifinal, where they will take on CSU Fullerton for a Wednesday night road game. No. 1 UC Santa Barbara will play either UC Davis or CSU Northridge on Wednesday. Winners of each semifinal game will face each other for the Big West Conference Tournament championship game on Saturday, Nov. 14.