SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Midfielder George Malki's 77th-minute strike was all the Cal Poly soccer program needed to reach the Big West Conference Tournament, as the junior's fourth goal of 2012 helped the Mustangs to a 1-0 victory on Saturday evening against Blue-Green rival UC Santa Barbara at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The Mustangs (11-6-1, 6-3-1) entered Saturday's regular season finale deadlocked with Sacramento State for second place in the Big West North Division standings and after the Hornets dropped a 2-1 decision at UC Davis earlier Saturday, the Mustangs needed only a draw to advance to their first Big West Tournament since 2010
Instead, UC Santa Barbara freshman goalkeeper Austin Mansker spilled an initial shot attempt from senior forward Chris Gaschen and the loose ball eventually fell to Malki (right, postgame), who rolled a shot toward the right post to help solidify Cal Poly's first season sweep of the Gauchos since 1997.
A sellout crowd of 11,075 spectators, a figure matching the 10th-largest regular season attendance figure in NCAA history, saw Malki notch the game winner. Cal Poly previously sold out matches against UC Santa Barbara in 2008 and 2011.
Cal Poly will face Big West South Division winner Cal State Northridge in one of two semifinal matchups on Wednesday, Nov. 7. Cal State Fullerton will visit North Division winner UC Davis in Wednesday's other semifinal matchup. The Big West Tournament championship is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 10 with the winner earning the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Saturday's win allowed Cal Poly to equal program season records for overall victories (11, set in 2007 and matched in 2008) and Big West victories (six, set in 2007 and equalized in 2009). Cal Poly's 19 points in the Big West standings is also the program's highest total since 2009.
Cal Poly enjoyed the early run of play on Saturday, but UC Santa Barbara (10-6-3, 4-5-1) produced the game's first scoring opportunity with senior forward Dion Acoff turned away by Mustang freshman goalkeeper Wade Hamilton in the seventh minute.
The Mustangs themselves registered just one shot on goal during the first half as a 33rd-minute header from sophomore forward Steve Palacios was stopped by Mansker.
Cal Poly, however, came to life early in the second half. Junior forward Mackenzie Pridham fired an untouched attempt through the Gaucho penalty area in the 49th minute before laying a saved attempt on for freshman midfielder Matt LaGrassa in the 65th.
It was Malki though, whose first career game-winning goal boosted Cal Poly into the Big West Tournament.
Cal Poly held UC Santa Barbara to just one shot attempt during the second half.