UCSD Avoids Scare With Second-Half Goal

    Senior defender Amanda Esquivel played a key role in fortifying the back line for the Tritons in their 1-0 win over Academy of Art. UCSD’s defensive players appear to be peaking at the right time as they have registered five shutouts in their last six games with the conference championships coming up on Nov. 7-9. (Andrew Ricci/Guardian)

    WOMEN’S SOCCER — Just in time for Halloween, the No. 22 Tritons avoided their own Urban Knight-mare to beat the defensive-minded Academy of Art University in its inaugural year.

    It was fitting that senior forward Natasha Belak-Berger scored the game’s lone goal on Senior Day while senior goalkeeper Jessica McGovern tallied her eighth shutout on the season, leading the Tritons to a 1-0 victory over the Urban Knights.

    UCSD’s goal came when freshman midfielder Shelby Wong sprinted up the left sideline and sent a beautiful centering pass to Belak-Berger, who touched it through two Urban Knight defenders to the far post and into the back of the net. The score was Belak-Berger’s 11th of the year; she has now scored in five of the team’s last seven matches and she leads the team in goals and points.

    The nonconference win didn’t affect the team’s league standing but did improve the Tritons’ overall record to 13-2-2 as the team moved back into the top 25 of the NCAA/Adidas Coaches Poll after dropping out Sept. 19.

    “It’s a weird feeling that four years are already over,” Belak-Berger said. “But [Senior Day] wasn’t our last home game. Hosting the CCAA Championships is great because it draws big crowds and we get to play at home.”

    In the first half, UCSD controlled the tempo and the ball as the Academy of Art’s lone chance came off a steal. The Urban Knight forward intercepted the pass from the Triton defender and raced up field shooting from the top of the box. But McGovern smothered the shot, thwarting the best opportunity for the Academy of Art to score on UCSD’s defense.

    On the other side of the ball, the Tritons had multiple scoring opportunities in the first half with many coming off the foot of junior midfielder Alexia Zatarain on corner kicks. A pair of headers as well as a Triton free kick were captured by the Academy of Art goalkeeper to prevent the Tritons from scoring.

    UCSD’s other chances came in the 15th and 31st minutes. First, it was Zatarain receiving the pass from senior midfielder Laura Borenstein on the right side, juking a defender and sending a laser to the near post, which was caught by the Urban Knight goalkeeper. Then senior midfielder Kelly Mayo took an open shot from the right wing, only to watch the ball float over the crossbar.

    Belak-Berger said Mayo’s return after suffering a nearly season-ending injury has really helped the team.

    “[Mayo] brings a lot of experience onto the field,” she said. “When she comes in games she is fired up and talks. She is an important factor and it’s really good to have her back.”

    The second half wasn’t much different as the Tritons controlled the ball on the offensive side of the field, firing six shots on goal with one slipping into the net. Overall, head coach Brian McManus was displeased with the girls’ performance, but there’s not much they could have done when the Urban Knights packed 10 behind the halfline.

    “It’s difficult to play when they packed everyone in one half of the field,” he said. “The only thing you can do against that is be patient and put the ball away when you got the chance. We didn’t play very well but we got the result and we’ll take it.”

    The Tritons will have another week of rest before they suit up for the final two games of the regular season. UCSD will travel to rival Cal State San Bernardino, which defeated the Tritons 1-0 in double overtime earlier in the season, and Cal Poly Pomona, which UCSD toppled 2-0 on Sept. 26.

    Belak-Berger said the team will go through its usual routine before the weekend’s game, but needs to get focused earlier than normal.

    Junior UCSD midfieler Alexia Zatarain tries to wrestle the ball away from freshman Academy of Art defender Kristen Franco during their game on Oct. 25. The Tritons outshot the Urban Knights 9-3. (Hydie Cheung/Guardian)

    “These are two really big games for us,” she said. “We’ll do the same stuff we always do. We’re psyched for [the rematch against Cal State San Bernardino] because it is one of our only losses and it happened at home. We don’t usually lose at home so we want to beat them on its field.”

    Not only will the final two matches include a grudge match, but they’ll ultimately determine where the Tritons rank in the California Collegiate Athletic Association and where they will be seeded come conference playoffs.

    McManus could not stress enough how important these last two games of the season are.

    “They’re massive,” he said of the games. “If we win, we take the politics out of seeding and we definitely make it to NCAA Regionals even if we don’t win the conference tournament. Lose once, then we’ll probably have to win the conference tournament.”

    McManus believes that CSUSB is playing for its season in the last two games and, if the Tritons can knock off the Coyotes, they will most likely eliminate CSUSB from playoff contention.

    Since the Coyotes beat the Tritons on UCSD’s home field in overtime earlier this season, the Tritons wouldn’t mind returning the favor.

    After they play out the regular season, the Tritons will return home to host the CCAA Championships on Nov. 7-9.

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