FULLERTON, Calif. – Cal State Fullerton's Diego Sanchez has a habit of making something happen when the postseason comes around and the junior continued his magic in the conference tourney by netting the final penalty kick in a shootout to defeat UC Davis, 1-1 (5-3), on Saturday night at Titan Stadium in the first round of the Big West Men's Soccer Tournament.
"This was a very difficult game," coach George Kuntz said. "We knew it was going to be a physical duel with two different styles of play and we didn't match up well the first time we played them, it was something we hard to take a few hard lessons on. We came back, regrouped, studied a lot of tape and tried to figure out what was happening in the last game. I thought it was a valiant effort from our guys because to know where we've come from to where we are now, our potential is unlimited. I think we could have had a few more goals, but give credit to UC Davis because they defended pretty well."
With the victory, the Titans advance to the semifinals of the Big West Tournament for the third-straight season. Overall, Fullerton moves to 9-8-4 on the year and will travel to UC Santa Barbara to battle the Gauchos for a spot in the final on Wednesday.
The match started with both squad's sort of feeling each other out before the Titan attack found itself in terrific position.
Ronaldo Pineda put a cross inside the box that would be deflected right to Michael Lopez who found himself on the left side of the box. The sophomore defender then launched a finesse shot that slowly flew right over the goalkeeper's head and into the net to give the Titans a 1-0 edge in the 12th minute.
"I was just remembering coach saying 'just shoot' and I just shot the ball with my left foot and it went in," Lopez said.
Lopez' goal was his first of the season and second in his career to put the Titans on top early.
Minutes later, Lopez came within a centimeter of scoring his second goal of the night as his effort went off the left post and across the front of the goal but the center official didn't grant the Titan the goal, which left the match tied at one.
"I was thinking that someone would follow up the shot but I didn't see anyone following it up," Lopez said. "The referee just kept playing it on and I was kind of pissed because I thought it went in."
Through the first 45 minutes, Fullerton led in corners (1-0) and saves (2-1) but the Aggies took the shots category (6-5).
To kick off the second half, Ross McPhie put a nice header right at Armando Quezada but the UC Davis goalkeeper made the save to end the Titan threat.
After a few chances from the Aggies, Fullerton's Sanchez had the best chance of the second half to put the Titans on top as the midfielder put a powerful strike on target but the ball nailed the right post to keep the match tied at one through 90 minutes.
Following two scoreless overtime periods, the winner of the match between the Titans and Aggies was going to be decided by a shootout.
Nicolo D'Amato got the exchange started and put his shot right into the back of the net to give Fullerton the early edge in the shootout.
Next, Titan goalkeeper Elias made a familiar play as the senior leaped to his right to deny UC Davis' Wilson of tying the shootout and giving his team the early advantage.
Leading 4-3 with the edge in the shootout, Sanchez lined up to the spot and slid the ball right past the goalkeeper to give the Titans a first round victory and keep their tournament run alive with a spot in the semifinals for the third-straight season.
"I knew it was going to come down to the fifth once the UC Davis player scored so I was just jogging towards the ball not really thinking about it," Sanchez said. "We practice penalty kicks every day at practice and I was just going to put it where I always put it. But I didn't really think about scoring or missing I was just thinking about where I always put it."
Up next for the Fullerton men's soccer squad is a semifinal match in the Big West Men's Soccer Tournament at UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday night. The Titans faced the Gauchos in the championship round of the tournament last season and beat UCSB on the road, 1-0, to secure their second consecutive Big West tournament title.
"As soon as the whistle blew I was thinking about UC Santa Barbara," Kuntz said. "They're a great program at Santa Barbara and we've been there so many times. It's just going to be a great match for the fans and I hope a lot of people come out because it's good for Southern California. There's two very good teams that are probably underrated and we play in such a great West Region that everybody beats each other up. So we will see who comes out of that one."
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