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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The Big West Tournament has proved to be tricky to navigate for the UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team over the years, but the 15th-ranked and second-seeded Gauchos came up big in their 2-0 defeat of sixth-seeded CSUN on Saturday night at Harder Stadium to qualify for their first conference tournament final in four years and their sixth trip to the championship match in program history.
"It was a really good night for us. I thought that having a week to prepare for this game allowed for a few players to get healthier, and I thought we were fresh. It was very important for us to get goals in the first half. The first goal was big and I thought the second goal was the best one all season. We're excited because we think this does enough for us in terms of [getting into] the NCAA Tournament, but we have a very exciting game at Davis up ahead," said UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg following the match.
UCSB (12-3-4) hit the ground running following the opening whistle, creating chances and possessing the ball in the CSUN defensive half for the majority of the opening minutes.
In the 24th minute, a challenge from senior defensive midfielder Sahid Conteh advanced the ball to junior right winger Rodney Michael, which he pinged towards the back post for senior striker Will Baynham.
Five minutes later, a one-two played between Baynham and senior left wingback Noah Billingsley saw the New Zealand U-23 international Billingsley deliver a lifted cross from the left endline to the far post, where Michael headed the ball goalwards for his fifth of the year.
The goal was the result of 17 uninterrupted passes building up to Michael's header.
Sophomore goalkeeper Ben Roach came up with four saves to earn the Gauchos their tenth clean sheet of the season, the most in a single season since 2010 when UCSB also achieved ten.
The Santa Barbara, Calif.-native has posted a 0.90 goals-against average this season so far, which would rank just outside the top 10 single-season marks in program history. In addition, Roach's 16 shutouts in his career thus far put him level with Bob Tuler (1975-78) for sixth-most all-time.
The Gauchos will travel north to face UC Davis on Friday, Nov. 15, with kickoff at Aggie Soccer Field scheduled for 2:00 p.m. The game will be taking place on Friday due to a conflict with a UC Davis football game on Saturday afternoon.
Santa Barbara's trip to UC Davis earlier this season on Oct. 23 ended in a 1-1 draw after two overtime periods, with freshman attacking midfielder Finn Ballard McBride cancelling out a UCSB own goal to secure an away point for the visitors.
"Davis has had an amazing season. It's a game where you have to play better soccer to break them down. They're well-coached, disciplined, athletic, and they play to their strengths. It will be a tough match. We'll get up there and be ready to play," added Vom Steeg.
Links to the Aggies' live video stream, a UCSB live audio stream with Arthur Wilkie on play-by-play and current Gaucho student-athlete Carson Vom Steeg on color, live stats, and tickets are available on the men's soccer schedule page.