November 5, 2015
Big West Conference Tournament Round 1: #1 49ers 1 – #4 Highlanders 0 (OT)
This past Thursday, November 5, the UC Riverside women’s soccer team took on #1 ranked Long Beach State in the Big West Conference semifinals. This was the third time in program history that the women’s soccer team managed to make the Big West tournament and hoped to advance to the championship game with a win.
The Highlanders had control of the ball throughout most of the match, but the defense gave the 49ers multiple opportunities to score. Fortunately for UCR, the Niners failed to convert, but the biggest blow to the Highlanders came from their own end. Early on in the match, senior Tyler Cunningham was given a yellow card for arguing what she felt was a bad non-call. This proved crucial later in the match when Cunningham received her second yellow card while trying to shield the ball and tripping Long Beach’s Mimi Akogi right in front of the 49er bench in the process. Long Beach coaches and players argued on Akogi’s behalf giving the referee reason to call the play.
By rule of soccer, two yellow cards equates to one red card, which leads to an ejection. And so, Cunningham was removed from the game with only eight seconds left in the half, walking off the field wearing the Highlander jersey for the final time of her career. Considering the fact that this was Cunningham’s last moment in a college match with her fellow teammates who had been fighting hard throughout an all-or-nothing match, this proved a highly emotional moment for the team. However, the Highlanders had to continue the match without their leading senior forward and with only 10 players on the field. Throughout regulation time, neither team was able to score and ended the hard-fought 90 minute period, tied at 0-0, forcing overtime. The Highlanders and 49ers headed into overtime both hoping to score and avoid going into penalty kicks.
With the Highlanders still one player down in OT, Long Beach’s offense applied pressure early on, knowing they had an advantage. Finally, in the 94th minute, it paid off as the Niners’ Jessica Vincent and Ashley Gonzales got through the Highlander defense. After crossing the ball through the box, Long Beach’s Fatmata Kamara slid towards the goal pushing the ball past the Highlanders goalie, Elizabeth Silas. And just like that, Long Beach State got the win, 1-0 beating the Highlanders in the Big West Conference semifinals. That same evening the Cal State Fullerton Titans won, 4-2 versus the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos and the 49ers and the Titans will face off on Sunday, November 8 at 1 p.m. to see who wins the Big West Conference cup.
As for the Highlanders, their missed opportunity at a conference championship does not negate the fact that this team managed to earn their second highest win total in program history (11) and it also ties the program record for most conference wins (5). The hope for them is that this success carries them further next season.