TURLOCK, Calif. - It’s the advantage of having a veteran group.
The 16th-ranked UC San Diego men’s soccer team conceded a goal just over three minutes into the contest, but behind the calming influence and strong leadership of seven seniors in the starting lineup, rallied for a 2-1 overtime victory over No. 24 Chico State in a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championship semifinal Friday at Warrior Stadium on the campus of Cal State Stanislaus.
Freshman Malek Bashti’s first collegiate goal 1:46 into overtime lifted the Tritons to the thrilling win in the program’s first postseason match since 2005 and its first under the guidance of sixth-year head coach Jon Pascale, a day after being named the CCAA Coach of the Year for a second successive season.
UCSD thus earned the right to play for its first conference title this Sunday, Nov. 10, at 12:30 p.m., against 11th-ranked and top-seeded Cal State L.A., also a 2-1 winner Friday in the late semifinal over No. 4 seed Sonoma State.
The victory extended UCSD’s unbeaten streak to seven matches at 5-0-2, and improved its overall record to 14-2-3. A second straight loss coming on the heels of a 10-match undefeated run of its own dropped Chico State to 13-4-2.
The result, UCSD’s third come-from-behind 2-1 triumph of 2013, also gave the Tritons the rubber match against the rival Wildcats, as the sides had split their regular-season series, each taking narrow 1-0 decisions on the road. The Tritons’ second-ever win at a CCAA Championship came almost 10 years after they fell 5-1 to Chico State in their only previous title-game appearance on Nov. 9, 2003.
In the lead-up to the decisive goal, Cory Wolfrom took a short pass from fellow senior Will Pleskow up the center of the field, and played a through ball forward. Bashti latched onto it, and hit a left-footed shot from the left side of the penalty area that Chico State goalkeeper Sam Evans got his hands to, but was unable to deflect enough to keep the ball from carrying into the upper right corner.
Wolfrom had moments prior had his attempt saved by Evans a mere 22 seconds into the period. The fourth-year senior was making his first appearance since Oct. 27, the assist his first of the season.
Within the first three minutes of the opening whistle, Pleskow provided a cross from the right sideline that senior striker Tsuk Haroush was a split-second too late to, as Evans beat him to the ball to catch out of the air.
Immediately on the other end, senior Luis Martinez looped a short pass from left to right over the Triton defense and to junior teammate Adam Black. Black’s low shot from the right diagonal 10 yards out, found the lower left corner for his first goal of 2013 and an early 1-0 Wildcat advantage. It was a fourth assist for Martinez.
The rest of the first half did not see much in the way of scoring opportunities for either side, with the ‘Cats taking a 4-1 edge in shots into the interval. The lone attempt credited to UCSD was by Pleskow in the 14th minute.
Following the restart, this time it was UCSD with the early strike, as the equalizer came off the foot of senior winger Elan Gefen at 49:06. Pleskow provided the through ball, and Gefen took a touch before rolling his right-footed shot just inside the left post for his first of the year and second of his career.
With assists credited on both Triton scores on the day, Pleskow increased his season total to four. After missing 10 matches through injury, he now has four helpers and a game-winning goal over the last five games.
In the 78th minute, Wolfrom’s pass down the right side sprung freshman winger Nick Palano, but that effort went high of the target.
With 1:14 remaining in regulation, Andisheh Bagheri’s free kick from the center of the Chico State half found the head of senior center back Gavin Lamming near the end line on the right side. Lamming nodded it toward the near post, where Bashti nearly grabbed the winner, only for Evans’ diving save to deny him his first career goal, only temporarily as it turned out, and secure extra soccer.
Senior UCSD goalkeeper Josh Cohen, who garnered his second consecutive CCAA Most Valuable Defensive Player award on Thursday night, finished the match with two saves, as did Evans for Chico State.
The ‘Cats outshot the Tritons, 11-8. Bashti was the only UCSD player with multiple attempts, both of them on goal.
The Tritons now await a third meeting this year with Cal State L.A., with the teams having played to a 1-1 draw on Senior Day in La Jolla last Sunday, Nov. 3, following a 1-0 Golden Eagle victory in Los Angeles back on Sept. 15. At 13-1-5, CSULA is unbeaten over its last 14 matches (9-0-5) since its lone loss of 2013. The contest will have a live video stream with audio commentary, free of charge, courtesy of Warrior Athletics. The broadcast can be accessed here.
Triton Notes: UCSD leads the all-time series, 10-6-2 ... The Tritons are 2-4-1 all-time in six appearances at the CCAA Championship and 1-1 against Chico State ... UCSD is 2-0 at Warrior Stadium in Turlock this season, having blanked Cal State Stanislaus, 2-0, on Oct. 4 ... This was a sixth overtime match for the Tritons this year, now at 2-1-3, and second against Chico State ... The Tritons’ current seven-game unbeaten streak began after the 1-0 overtime loss to Chico State in La Jolla on Oct. 13 ... Alessandro Canale, Jacob Valadez and Taylor Wirth were all unavailable, with Canale serving a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation (five) ... Haroush earned his fourth start of the season and first since Oct. 6 ... Freshman Gerrit van Zyll drew a fourth consecutive start at the other forward spot ... Wolfrom came on as a first-half substitute after missing the previous two matches ... Wolfrom now has 12 career assists ... UCSD has still not let up more than one goal in any of its last 23 matches since a 3-0 loss at Cal State Dominguez Hills late in the 2012 campaign ... The Tritons also overturned 1-0 deficits to win in overtime at California Baptist in their season opener (Sept. 5) and at home against Cal State Monterey Bay (Oct. 27) ... UCSD’s 14 overall wins are the program’s most in exactly two decades, since the 1993 NCAA Division III national championship side went 21-2-1.