More than a month into an eight-game winning streak and in the midst of more than 700 consecutive minutes of defensive perfection, Coral Hoover might have traded in every one of the past seven shutouts to avoid the way the streak ended Sunday.
The Cal Poly women’s soccer goalkeeper allowed her first goal since Oct. 4, and with it, UC Santa Barbara was able to leverage a 1-1 tie and take out the Mustangs 5-4 in a penalty-kick shootout to win the Big West Conference Tournament and snag the conference’s only automatic NCAA Tournament berth. The tie for Cal Poly — the team’s first of the season — is likely to end a sterling breakout senior season for Hoover and a surprising run to the regular season title for a Mustangs team that did not return one all-conference first-team player and was picked to finish third in the Big West.
Cal Poly (14-5-1) remains a long shot to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but it seemed as though all was lost after Whitney Sisler missed wide left on the first attempt in the shootout.
A large majority of the 1,036 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium certainly let out a collective groan and could only watch as every successive player converted her kick.
“They were great all year long,” UC Santa Barbara head coach Paul Stumpf said. “(Seven) straight shutouts, they missed one penalty kick and now they’re not in the NCAAs, which seems unfair because I think they’re an NCAA team.”
Mustangs coach Alex Crozier had not given up hope after the game.
Citing an 8-1-1 record in the final 10 matches, seven votes in the current coaches poll and an RPI that jumped up from 77th to 63rd this week, Crozier said he would be watching ESPNews’ broadcast of the NCAA Tournament selection show today at 5 p.m.
“All those little things,” Crozier said, “I’m not counting on it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we get in. And we’ll know tomorrow at 5 when they have the selection show.”
If the season does end, it will be the third consecutive year the Mustangs have been ousted in a shootout. Cal Poly lost 5-4 to the Gauchos in the semifinals of last season’s Big West Tournament and fell 4-3 at Cal State Fullerton the prior season. That kind of record gave Stumpf more confidence in his team when the two 10-minute overtime periods ran off without a score.
“Overtime, we just wanted to play strong, maybe get a goal in,” said UC Santa Barbara’s Katy Roby, who scored the Gauchos’ regulation goal, “but I think our coach really wanted us to put them away in PKs.”
Well before that and after a fortunate first half for the Mustangs, Cal Poly looked ready to seal its NCAA berth the automatic way. The Mustangs held a 1-0 lead at the break despite UC Santa Barbara dominating possession.
The Gauchos had five shots in that first half — four coming on goal, — while Cal Poly was just able to scrounge two shots on goal.
All that mattered, however, was that Morgan Miller put the second of those two shots away in the 39th minute, flipping it up and over diving UC Santa Barbara goalkeeper Tammy Lenham on a setup from Bianca Burright.
“In the locker room, we were confident,” said Miller, whose fifth goal tied her with Tiffany Gummow for the team lead, “but we knew that Santa Barbara was going to battle us. We knew that we had to come out harder than them and work our butts off.”
UC Santa Barbara got the equalizer when Roby dribbled around a wall of defenders and roped the ball through the only spot of open space Hoover was showing her in the 68th minute.
That goal did little to change the fact that Hoover, who actually began the season in a platoon, has been the best keeper in the conference, leading the Big West with 11 shutouts.
The Corralitos native and former walk-on also led starting Big West goalkeepers in goals against, save percentage, total saves and saves per game.
The seven straight shutouts Cal Poly had coming into the game established a new school record, but there’s no telling what could have happened had the Mustangs gotten that eighth.
“We accomplished a lot this year,” Miller said. “We got really far, Coral led the team and I think we got farther than any of us thought we’d get. And we wanted it.”