FULLERTON, Calif. - The UC Santa Barbara women's soccer team has gotten used to winning close games in the final minutes this season. On Thursday, the Gauchos scored a bit early as Amanda Ball tallied a shot in the 78th minute to give them a 1-0 win at Cal State Fullerton in a showdown of the top teams in the Big West Conference.
UCSB, which has won five straight games, (13-4-1 overall, 6-1 and 18 points in the Big West) is now tied with Long Beach State for first-place in the Big West Conference. Long Beach, however, has completed its league schedule and the Gauchos have one game remaining.
The game-winning score came when freshman Mallory Hromatko, the team's leading scorer, found Ball racing down the right side of the penalty box. Ball, just a sophomore, carried the ball past a defender and pushed a shot past Jennifer Stuart for her third goal fo the season to give the Gauchos a 1-0 edge. Stuart entered the match with an 11-0-0 record and suffered her first defeat at the hands of UCSB.
Santa Barbara battled the Titans (13-3-1, 5-2 and 15 points in the Big West) scoreless through more than 75 minutes before Ball took the pass from Hromatko and scored the game-winner.
"We weathered some storms in the first half," said UCSB head coach Paul Stumpf. "We had a great chat at halftime and pointed out a few ideas, and the team, again, made the adjustments."
Clearly, the adjustments made the difference for the Gauchos.
"The game evened out and we scored a great combination goal," Stumpf said.
UCSB goalkeeper Beth Ritter, the only active senior on the team, posted her eighth straight win. Ritter recorded a season-high eight saves as she blanked the high-scoring Titans.
"Beth came up big two or three times," Stumpf said. "Our back six did a great job too, against a dynmanic group of attackers."
The Gauchos were outshot 15-7 overall and 8-2 in terms of shots on goal, but those stats were meaningless.
Since opening the season with a an 0-2-1 record, UCSB has gone 13-2-1. The Gauchos travel to Cal State Northridge on Sunday, Nov. 1 for the regular season finale. They will advance to the Big West Conference Tournament as either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed, depending on Sunday's match against the Matadors. Either way the tourney will be played at Cal State Fullerton on Thursday, Nov. 5 and Sunday, Nov. 8.