So damn close.
The Cal Poly men’s soccer team’s chance to win an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament took a hard blow after its 4-3 loss to visiting Portland on Friday night.
The Mustangs (11-4-4, 6-2-4 Big West) were still celebrating freshman David Zamora’s 88th-minute tying goal when Pilot Bryan Irwin scored his second goal of the night with 18 seconds left in the game.
“We had too many holes in the back; we obviously didn’t defend well enough,” head coach Paul Holocher said after the game.
“It’s just a heartbreaking way to lose a game,” he added.
Portland (7-10-3, 2-7-3 Big West) scored the first goal of the game in the 10th minute and Cal Poly answered with junior Julian Alvarez and freshman Daniel Gray each scoring before halftime.
Gray’s goal, which pushed the Mustangs to their only lead of the game, was a one-touch rocket across the box to the top-right corner of the net that had the crowd in awe.
Portland put two more in – both unanswered – until the last three minutes of the game, when Zamora scored off a rebound of a corner kick.
The 2,662-person crowd, including a cluster of yellow-clad Mustang Manglers, saw the chance of garnering a victory in overtime.
However, Irwin’s last-minute goal left everyone speechless (except for the profanities, of course, and the taunting toward the Manglers, courtesy of the Pilots).
Freshman Colin Sculley had three saves in Friday’s game, which was his first start in the goal.
“There were four goals that came quickly in transition,” Holocher said. “We have to have courage and realize we still have a chance with Sunday’s game. We’re not going to drop our heads.”
Sunday’s 3-1 victory against visiting Cal State Fullerton exhibited a strong turnaround by the Poly players.
“We needed this,” Holocher said. “We’re in a very good position to go to the NCAA playoffs.”
The Senior Day win gave the team new confidence.
“We got back to what made us good at the beginning of the year: passing the ball and good defense,” Holocher said.
Senior starters Casey Cordray and K.J. Lenehan, both defenders, felt good about what may be their last game as Mustangs.
“If it’s my last game, it’s good to be back to playing our own game,” Cordray said. “For the second half of the season, we drifted away from Poly-style soccer.”
“We had a rough couple of games,” Lenehan said. “I’m proud of the team and coaching staff to be able to execute today.”
“It feels good to finish off the season strong,” Cordray said.
Starting freshman goalkeeper Patrick McLain made three saves and let one goal in during his first minutes of the season.
McLain was taken off redshirt status for Sunday’s game.
“He used a year to win a game – that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s not afraid of the pressure,” Holocher said. “We felt very confident with him.”
Since Cal Poly is third in the Big West Conference, they need an at-large bid to the playoffs. The Mustangs’ future lies in the hands of a selection committee that will make its decision this afternoon.