Finishing the season with a 4-3-1 in conference play, the Anteaters were on the threshold of making the playoffs. Only the top four teams advance to postseason play in the Big West, and UCI needed Fullerton to beat Pacific to ensure a 4th seed spot.
After UCI and Gonzaga shook hands, the Anteaters triumphant for their 12th win of the season, Fullerton and Pacific were in overtime, tied at 1. Pacific had a 4-2-1 Big West record before the game, and so a tie or win would keep them ahead of UCI. However, a loss would move Pacific to 4-3-1, same as UCI, and since UCI beat Pacific earlier this year, 1-0, the Anteaters would have the tiebreaker. Fullerton would also finish 4-3-1 with a win over Pacific, and UCI and CSUF tied 1-1 during the season. However, due to the goal differential tiebreaker, the Anteaters would have the tiebreaker over the Titans for the final playoff spot.
Unfortunately for UCI, Fullerton’s record on the season in OT games at the time was 0-1-5. The first overtime period went by with no goals. However, with five minutes left in the second OT, UCI got what they needed. CSUF’s Danielle Bitonti scored against Pacific, catapulting UCI into the playoffs. As the players went crazy, Head Coach Scott Juniper shouted “Yes!” and pumped his fist.
“I’m just ecstatic … such a crazy season … so many games were so close, and these guys have worked so hard,” Juniper said. “They’re putting in training everyday for three months in the summer, and the team spirit they have right now… they just deserve it. I’m thrilled for them.”
As a prerequisite to the possibility of a playoff seed, UCI had to make sure to beat the 49ers on Thursday and put themselves in a position to at least have a chance for the playoffs.
“It was a must win, and every time this season we’ve had a must-win game, the girls have really stepped up,” Juniper said. “Every single player that went in today was outstanding.”
Junior Alyssa Humphrey put the Anteaters on the board in the 21st minute off of an assist from freshman Devon Delarosa. The Anteaters never relinquished control after that, as senior Kate Berrini surprised everyone by crossing the midfield line and blasting a goal from 40 yards out that looped over the helpless Long Beach goalie.
“I looked up and there wasn’t anyone 15 yards from me, and so I just figured I’d take a shot,” Berrini said. “It was pretty far but I knew I wanted to take the shot for sure.”
Sophomore Lexi Kopf got a breakaway in the 76th minute, and was taken down by a 49er defender from behind, giving the Lady Anteaters a penalty kick. Sophomore Judy Christopher took the kick for UCI and scored, going to the right.
“We’re at a point now that we can go very deep on the bench, and we can achieve different things on the field depending on the personnel on the field,” Juniper said.
On Sunday, the Anteaters beat the Bulldogs for good measure. Berrini added two more goals and freshman Jackie Samis picked up an assist.
“Kate was part of my first recruiting class in 2006. She’s been a part of quite the evolution here at UCI,” Juniper said. “There have been some ups and downs, but she’s dealt with it and come out on the other side as a mature young lady who can step up and lead a team. She’s an incredibly exciting soccer player and her investment in the team this year has been incredible.”
UCI will now face first seeded Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Thursday, Nov. 5, in San Luis Obispo. During the regular season, UCI had been up 2-1 on the Mustangs before they staged a late comeback, winning it in overtime. The Anteaters figure to be pumped up to have a second shot in the playoffs with their season on the line, no less.
“If you ask them who they wanted to play, they’d say Cal Poly because that’s the game that got away,” Juniper said. “After that, Northridge, because that one got away too. Those were the two that we dominated the game and didn’t get what we deserved.”
The other team in the tournament is UC Santa Barbara, a team UCI walloped 3-0 this year. The Gauchos will play the Matadors in the other semifinal match, and the two winners will meet on Sunday, Nov. 8 for the title match.
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