November 10, 2018. A date that will forever be etched into the minds of the UC Riverside players who rewrote history with a 4-2 victory over UC Davis in penalty kicks.
The stakes for this game seemed to raise higher and higher by the minute, with UCR making its first appearance in the championship round. The team played in front of a sold-out crowd at UCR Soccer Stadium, and absolutely toyed with their hearts as scoreless soccer ensued for 110 minutes, resulting in a shootout to decide the winner.
Both the Highlanders and Aggies exchanged goals for the first go-around, as sophomore Daniel Aguirre and Jake Haupt scored for their respective team during PKs.
However, with the score tied at 1-1, UC Davis’ Robert Mejia would miss high and wide passed the goal post – granting UCR huge momentum to pounce on. Sophomore forward Roberto Garcia capitalized on this opportunity, belting in his goal to put Riverside up 2-1. The Aggies’ chances weren’t quite over yet, as Matt Baringer went up to the spot in hopes of tying the game, and possibly leading to a stop against the home team. Neither of those two things happened as junior goalkeeper Edwyn Gutierrez came up huge with a block to deny UC Davis from tying the score. Riverside freshman Issa Badawiya and Davis’ Emmanuel Doherty both notched in goals during the fourth PK attempt, putting the score at 3-2 in UCR’s favor.
Just when the Highlanders needed someone to put the game away once and for all, freshman Daniel Castaneda did exactly that. After scoring the golden goal against Cal State Fullerton to propel the Highlanders to the championship round, Castaneda found the back of the net to score the team’s fourth penalty kick. But this time around, he sent his team to the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Though the score didn’t show throughout regulation and the two overtimes, UCR was by far the more aggressive team of the night. The Highlanders finished the game with nine of their 15 shots on target, compared to three of nine shots on target from their conference foes.
The soon-to-be conference winners were also more organized on defense, as shown through UC Davis’ number of shots on goals.
Though technically the match is marked as a draw, this marks the second straight season where the Aggies were edged in penalties during the championship final, as they fell to Cal State Fullerton 4-3 last year. The team moves to 11-4-5 on the season, as the fate of their postseason lies in the hands of the NCAA Tournament committee.
As for the Highlanders, they go to 7-9-3 overall and have earned the Big West’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The Highlanders next play at the University of the Pacific on Nov. 15 at Knoles Field, Stockton, CA. The last time the two teams played was earlier this season on Sep. 6, where the Tigers beat the Highlanders 3-1. Granted, UCR was a much different team earlier in the season, and will look to continue their momentum heading into Thursday’s game.
The championship win legitimizes a program that has long struggled with earning results. On top of that, it also brings the university’s first-ever Big West title, something that has eluded the entire athletics program ever since the school transitioned into Division I in 2000.
The championship win epitomizes the overall grit the team has kept up since the beginning of the season. Despite the 0-7-1 start to the season, Riverside never had a doubt in their mind that they couldn’t compete with the other elite teams in the Big West Conference. Saturday night’s victory marks the eighth win over the last 10 matches, as they look to extend that streak heading into the NCAA Tournament.