NORTHRIDGE, Calif. – Freshman goalkeeper Wade Hamilton (right) chalked up nine saves, but Cal State Northridge scored twice during the final half hour to eliminate the Cal Poly men's soccer team from the Big West Conference Tournament in Wednesday evening's semifinal matchup at Matador Soccer Field, 2-0.
Hamilton recorded six saves during the opening half to keep the scoreline level until Cal State Northridge forward Sagi Lev-Ari received a 60th-minute pass from fellow sophomore Edwin Rivas before hitting a volley into the back of the Mustang net.
Big West South Division champion Cal State Northridge (14-6-0) tested Hamilton three more times before putting the contest away in the 85th minute, as junior defender Chris Smith played a through ball on to freshman midfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who slotted his first goal of the season.
With the victory, Cal State Northridge advanced to face Big West North Division champion UC Davis in Saturday's 1 p.m. championship match. The Aggies, who eliminated Cal State Fullerton in Wednesday's other semifinal, 2-0, will host Saturday's finale.
Cal Poly (11-7-1), which finished as runners-up in the Big West North Division standings, had the chance to break through early, but conference Offensive Player of the Year selection Mackenzie Pridham was turned away twice by Cal State Northridge senior goalkeeper Michael Abalos during the opening 15 minutes. All-Big West first team selection and sophomore defender Nolan Moore also had two attempts blocked to close the first half.
Into the second half, Cal Poly saw another chance to grab the opening goal thwarted in the 57th minute as Abalos left his line to stop a one-on-one attack from Mustang freshman winger Chase Minter.
Despite the loss, Cal Poly still enjoyed one of the finest seasons in program history in 2012. The Mustangs, who won twice during the final week of the regular season to clinch a Big West Tournament spot after a one-year hiatus, matched program season records for overall victories (11) and conference victories (six). After scoring just 15 times in 18 games last year, Cal Poly reinvented its offense in 2012 by notching 26 goals.
"We're all extremely proud of the young men on this team for their efforts this year. I feel that we played in a way that inspired many young players and fans," said seventh-year Cal Poly head coach Paul Holocher, who will return nine of 11 players from Wednesday's starting lineup. "Even today, in a loss, we controlled much of the game playing in our way and we created enough quality chances to have a different final outcome. Cal State Northridge did an excellent job and deserves a lot of credit. I hope they have success in the NCAA Tournament as representatives of the Big West."
Wednesday's loss was Cal Poly's first in six matches at Cal State Northridge under Holocher.