SANTA CLARA, Calif. – With one week remaining in the regular season and both teams fighting to position themselves for the 2011 West Coast Conference title, Santa Clara staved off a furious rally from St. Mary's to beat the Gaels 2-1 Sunday at Buck Shaw Stadium.
Playing in their final home game, Eric Masch scored an equalizing goal for SCU and senior classmate Brandon Zimmerman blasted in a penalty kick with 20 minutes left, giving Santa Clara (9-5-4; 5-4-1 WCC) the edge in a game that was closely contested and extremely important for both sides.
St. Mary's (6-6-5, 5-3-2 WCC) – who now holds a tenuous one-point lead over SCU and three others in the WCC standings – had a penalty kick chance of their own with five minutes remaining, only to see the tying attempt kicked into the arms of Bronco goalkeeper Larry Jackson (pictured making the stop above).
"The game was a game that both teams had a lot to play for," said Santa Clara head coach Cameron Rast. "So both teams put a lot of energy in it and were committed to win it. We just seemed to be in a better rhythm and got our chances. I don't think we played our best today quite honestly, but we hung in there and were clutch when we needed to be."
"We got some breaks and so did they. The difference in the game, in the end, were the two penalties called. We made ours and we saved theirs."
Despite entering the match having won just once in 25 tries all-time at Buck Shaw Stadium, the Gaels looked sharp in the early going when Julian Godinez scored three minutes after the Senior Day ceremony and lineups had been announced.
Trailing 1-0, Santa Clara got back into it when Masch found the net for the third consecutive game, finishing a short pass from Connor Mitchell at the 20-minute mark. Things would remain even until SCU was awarded a penalty try midway through the second half.
"I tried to hit it hard," said Zimmerman about his PK, which was blown past a diving Doug Herrick. "You either try to pick out a certain spot, or you pick a side and try to hit it hard. If you hit it hard enough it becomes really tough to stop."
Zimmerman's conversion put SCU in front 2-1, however the Gaels continued to generate chances until the final horn, which produced Erik Macke's PK attempt, offered softly and low, and eventually denied by Jackson.
"We are healthy, or maybe healthier than we've been, which leads to a consistent lineup," said Rast about the current three-game win streak. "When you have a consistent lineup, you also have continuity and dependability."
"It really is a special experience for everyone," said Zimmerman about playing his final game at Buck Shaw. "Having all the parents here and to reflect on everything you've done over the past four years. Looking back on it, it's been good, really enjoyed it. To get the win, in front of your family against St. Mary's at home on Senior Day is great."
WCC STANDINGS (pts)
Saint Mary's 5-3-2 (17)/6-6-5
LMU 5-4-1 (16)/7-10-1
Santa Clara 5-4-1 (16)/9-5-4
Portland 5-4-1 (16)/10-6-2
San Diego 5-4-1 (16)/8-8-1
San Francisco 4-5-1 (13)/6-9-2
Gonzaga 2-7-1 (7)/4-11-2
THIS WEEK'S RESULTS
Wednesday, Nov. 2
Santa Clara 3, SAN FRANCISCO 2
Friday, Nov. 4
SAN DIEGO 2, Gonzaga 0
Portland 3, LMU 1
ST. MARY'S 2, San Francisco 1 ( 2OT )
Sunday, Nov. 6
LMU 4, Gonzaga 1
Portland 2, SAN DIEGO 1
SANTA CLARA 2, Saint Mary's 1
FINAL WEEK'S SCHEDULE
Wednesday, Nov. 9
San Diego @ LMU 2 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 11
Santa Clara @ GONZAGA 1 p.m.
Loyola Marymount @ ST. MARY'S 2 p.m.
San Francisco @ PORTLAND 7 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 13
San Francisco @ GONZAGA 12 noon
San Diego @ ST. MARY'S 1 p.m.
Santa Clara @ PORTLAND 1 p.m.