SANTA BARBARA — And the streak goes on.
Looking to break a 12-year losing skid at UC Santa Barbara’s Harder Stadium and strengthen its case for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, the Cal Poly men’s soccer team instead ended up with a familiar result.
The Mustangs fell 2-1 in overtime to the Gauchos in the opening round of the Big West Tournament after initially taking the lead but giving up the equalizer with just 18 minutes left in regulation.
It was the 13th straight match at Harder Stadium without a victory for Cal Poly, which also saw its hopes for a postseason bid effectively ended with the loss.
Cal Poly (9-6-3) owns wins over ranked foes UC Santa Barbara (12-4-3) and Indiana and tied UCLA earlier this season. Those results would have been the Mustangs’ ammunition had they gotten to the Big West Tournament final, but they needed to get there.
“Our RPI is out of the range most likely than where you need to be,” Mustangs head coach Paul Holocher said. “It needs to probably be in the 40s, and we’re probably in the 55s. Most likely, we’re out.”
That means, most likely, it will also be the final match for senior David Zamora, who ends his four-year Cal Poly career tied with Clay Harty (1995-96) for the all-time program scoring record. Both scored 25 goals in their Mustangs careers.
“I wish I could break that record,” Zamora said, “but I think I’ll have to be happy about just tying it. It was about my teammates all around me that made it possible, and I’m proud about it.”
Cal Poly led 1-0 on a first-half goal by sophomore forward Chris Bernardi and held on to the advantage well into the second half.
But in the 73rd minute, standout Gauchos freshman David Opoku, now second on the team with six goals, beat Mustangs junior goalkeeper Patrick McLain 1-on-1.
Seven minutes into overtime, Opoku drew the defense to him just outside the box before flipping a pass to Nic Ryan for the game-winner.
Going into the match, Cal Poly had beaten UC Santa Barbara just four times in the past 20 meetings and still hasn’t won in Santa Barbara since Nov. 13, 1998.
“It’s probably a mental block more than anything, a team-wide mental block,” said McLain, who had a match-high seven saves, “because I don’t think there’s anything physically stopping us from winning. So, hopefully we can get past that in the upcoming years.”
Cal Poly took the lead with just more than eight minutes left in the first half.
Senior midfielder Junior Burgos bent a corner kick in front of the goal, where 6-foot-1 Mustangs midfielder Cameron Walters headed the ball.
The shot was blocked by UC Santa Barbara goalkeeper Sam Hayden near the left post and trickled back across the goal to the right.
Bernardi took advantage for Cal Poly, blasting in the opening score in the 37th minute.
It was Bernardi’s second goal of the season and first since scoring the game-winner Sept. 10 in a 1-0 win over nationally ranked Indiana, is which now ranked in the top 10.
It ended a 14-match scoreless drought for Bernardi, who scored both goals in Cal Poly’s 2-0 preseason exhibition against UC Santa Cruz. That was after the Gauchos came up empty on plenty of chances.
In the first half alone, eight of UC Santa Barbara’s six shots came on goal. McLain made all six saves, diving to punch away a shot by Luis Silva and leaping over a group of Gauchos to collect a shot just moments later.
Zamora had one shot on goal in his final match.
“I wish we would have won this game on this field for David,” Holocher said. “He’s just been a terrific young man, just a great character and a great person, the leading goal-scorer of all-time at Cal Poly. He’s left his mark on history, and, hopefully, our guys will come back next year and remember this day, the effort to try and win one for David and win one for themselves.”