Cal Poly’s 12-season losing streak in Santa Barbara lived on Wednesday, as Cal Poly was unable to hold onto its early lead against the Gauchos. The Mustangs were eliminated from the Big West Tournament in a 2-1 overtime loss against UC Santa Barbara.
The Gauchos struck first in the opening minutes of the game. They recorded the first two shots, but Cal Poly assumed control of the game in the seventh minute. In 31-straight minutes, the Mustangs held UC Santa Barbara to no shots and recorded seven of their own, including a goal in the 37th minute by Sophomore Chris Bernardi.
Off a corner kick, senior Junior Burgos placed the ball in front of the Gauchos’ goal and junior Cameron Walters connected on a header. His shot was deflected by senior goalkeeper Sam Hayden, but was recovered by Bernardi. He put the ball into the low, left side of the net.
It was only Bernardi’s second goal of the season, ending a 14-game scoreless streak. His last goal was a 1-0 game-winner on Sept. 10 against then No.18 Indiana.
After scoring the goal, Bernardi ran to a crowd of Manglers, Cal Poly soccer fans, and said he’d never experienced anything like it before.
“It felt so great,” Bernardi said. “It felt awesome. It was an unbelievable and indescribable moment. I’ve come close (to scoring) before, I’ve had a couple chances, but I was able to put it in when it counted.”
The last time Cal Poly had a lead against the Gauchos in Harder Stadium was in the 2008 Big West Tournament semi-finals, which resulted in a loss for Cal Poly during penalty kicks.
After the goal, UC Santa Barbara held possession of the ball and shot five-consecutive shots on goal, all saved by junior goalkeeper Patrick McLain. McLain deflected a shot placed in the upper-right corner by sophomore Sam Garza in the 44th minute to hold Santa Barbara scoreless in the first half.
Cal Poly wasn’t able to find the control it had in the first half, recording only three shots for the remainder of the game.
The Gauchos kept the pressure on Cal Poly, shooting seven shots in the second half. Their one shot on goal in the half would deny Cal Poly its long-awaited win in Harder Stadium.
With 18 minutes remaining, freshman Gaucho David Opoku beat two Cal Poly defenders, drawing McLain out of the goal to contest a shot. Opoku dribbled around McLain to lay the game-tying goal into the net, and take the game into overtime.
McLain, who had six saves in the game, said against a team like UC Santa Barbara you have to play your best for a whole 90 minutes.
“A team as good as Santa Barbara going into the half, down 1-0, is really going to come at you in the second half,” McLain said. “I think we should have been better prepared to deal with that and lock things down a little tighter. I think that goal was definitely preventable. You stop that goal and maybe things would be different.”
The game marked the sixth time in their last eight match-ups that the two teams have gone to overtime.
In the eighth minute of overtime, a scramble for the ball in front of the Cal Poly net would find its way to sophomore Nic Ryan. He scored his second goal of the season, winning the game for the Gauchos.
UC Santa Barbara advanced to Big West Tournament finals for the third-consecutive year, while Cal Poly suffered its third-consecutive overtime loss in the Big West semi-finals.
The loss marks the end of the collegiate careers for Cal Poly’s leading scorers, seniors David Zamora and Junior Burgos. In their last season, Zamora led the team with five goals, while Burgos led the team with three assists. He was also second in goals with three.
Zamora leaves as one of the most decorated soccer athletes in Cal Poly’s history. In the last game of the regular season he tied Clay Harty (1995-96) for most goals in his career, with 25. Zamora is already Cal Poly’s point leader with 64, while also appearing in the most games (78) and ranking third with 12 assists.
Zamora said he was sad to have played his last game with Cal Poly, but at the same time he has had so many happy memories with the team.
“I’ve had four great years here at Cal Poly; It was a special time for me,” Zamora said. “Great memories, great wins, great losses, awesome teammates and special moments. It’s just a mixture of feeling right now. (It’s) overwhelming. But I am happy for being here and enjoying all this. I don’t think you get this in any other part of the country. The soccer culture here is awesome and I’m glad I chose to come here to the West Coast.”
Head coach Paul Holocher said he wished the team could have won it in Zamora’s last year.
“I wish we would have won this game on this field for David,” Holocher said. “He’s left his mark on history and hopefully our guys will come back next year and remember this day and remember the effort to try to win it for David and try to win one for themselves.”
The loss dampened Cal Poly’s chances of a bid to the NCAA tournament, and also spoiled what could have been Cal Poly’s first home match in the Big West tournament game.