UC Davis heads to Big West Conference Finals

In a high-intensity game with the season on the line, the UC Davis men’s soccer team shut out Cal State Fullerton 2-0 at Aggie Soccer Field.

The Aggies hosted the semifinal round of the Big West Conference tournament, a privilege they earned with their first-place finish in the North Division of the league.

UC Davis kept its hot streak alive with its second straight victory and the eighth in 10 games.

The Aggies gained the lead in the 26th minute when sophomore Matt Sheldon headed in a goal that was set up by freshman Eric Budniewski’s cross to the box.

Once ahead, UC Davis had no time to relax. CSU Fullerton almost tied up the game just 15 seconds later, in a situation that found junior goalie Omar Zeenni out of position. The Titans had an open look on the goal, but their shot bounced off the crossbar.

“They had some dangerous chances and so did we,” said head coach Dwayne Shaffer. “This is playoff soccer and I didn’t expect anything less from Fullerton — I knew they would battle hard to move on to the final but it was our day today.”

The Aggies and the Titans exchanged blows, quite literally, resulting in six yellow cards and almost 30 fouls between the two teams.

In the midst of the physical clashes, senior Mustafa Chopan left the game after a collision. Freshman Lucas Mohageg finished the game in Chopan’s position and did a fine job filling in for the regular starter. The Citrus Heights, Calif. native will return to the field on Saturday, according to Shaffer.

Among the many opportunities and close calls, there was bound to be another score. Fortunately for the Aggies, they converted a goal in the 82nd minute when Matt Wiesenfarth showed off his touch to set up a ball in the middle. He passed to sophomore Ian Palmer, who shot the ball across the goal to add to the UC Davis lead, 2-0.

This lead proved to be out of reach for the Titans, and the Aggies held on for the duration of the game for the victory.

“I think the difference between the two teams is our front six put the game on the Fullerton back four,” Shaffer said. “I knew we would eventually get in behind them on a counter attack and we did and scored a goal.”

This is the victory for the Aggies at the conference tournament in the Big West. On Saturday, UC Davis will play against the winner of the other semifinal between Cal Poly and Cal State Northridge, a game that took place late last night.

The Aggies lost the only game they played against CSU Northridge this season, and are 0-2 against the Mustangs on the season. The games against the Matadors and Mustangs account for the last three UC Davis losses.

Yet Shaffer is not worried about the past results.

“Last time we played Northridge, we weren’t rolling the way we were now, and the second half of that game, we played really well and that’s what propelled us into the season because we proved to ourselves we’re capable of playing good soccer,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me [who we play]; whoever shows up at our field we will play as hard as we can.”

The Big West final game will be on Saturday at 1 p.m. UC Davis will host the winner of Cal State Northridge or Cal Poly at Aggie Soccer Field. Tickets are $5 for student admission and $10 for general admission.

MATTHEW YUEN can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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