LONG BEACH — In an up-and-down season, there remained a few things the UC Irvine women's soccer team could count on. One was senior Rachel Wood's penalty kicks.
Wood, a senior transfer from North Carolina, converted her fifth penalty kick of the season with 55 seconds left in the second overtime to cap the Anteaters' 1-0 Big West Conference victory over host Long Beach State on Saturday.
It's the fourth straight time UCI (9-8-1, 5-1-1 in conference) has won the regular-season meeting between the two teams that have combined to win five of the last six Big West regular-season and conference tournament titles.
The victory extends the Anteaters' win streak to three games. It also lifts the two-time-defending conference regular-season champions into second place with one Big West match remaining. UCI's 16 points (three points for a conference win and one for a tie) are topped only by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's 17 through Saturday.
Long Beach State (11-6, 4-3) remains tied for fourth place with Cal State Fullerton (12 points each, one point behind Cal State Northridge). The 49ers, who have won the last two Big West Tournament crowns by topping UCI in the title game, have two conference matches remaining to try to secure a spot in the four-team conference tournament, held this year at UCI on Nov. 1 and Nov. 4.
UCI meets Cal State Northridge (one of eight conference teams in action on Sunday) on Friday at home at 7 p.m. to complete its regular season.
It appeared Saturday's game, in front of a Long Beach State-record home crowd of 1,304, would be completed without a score.
But UC Irvine senior Mar Rodriguez fired a shot at the top of the 18-yard box that glanced off a defender and the referee whistled a hand ball in the box on the 49ers.
The result was a penalty shot that Wood, who is playing through an ankle injury that not only requires her to miss practice, but to wear a boot whenever she is not playing in games, buried it in the 119th minute.
Long Beach goalkeeper Marrina Meyers lunged to her right in an ill-fated guess to try to make what would have been her first save.
It's the fifth goal of the season, the second game-winner, for Wood, who came to UCI to play forward, but was shifted back to defender (her position at UNC) due to the ankle injury that has hampered her for weeks.
"[Wood] has been great," UCI Coach Scott Juniper said. "That's a fifth-year senior who has played in a lot of big games. She was on 2008 and 2009 national championship teams [at North Carolina], so she knows how to win big games. To step up with however many seconds were left on the clock was fantastic."
UCI freshman goalkeeper Corey Tobin stepped up in the 84th minute, diving to her right after charging out of the cage to snare a leaning header by Long Beach midfielder Eileen Maes. The near-point-blank save slipped briefly from Tobin's grasp, before she pounced on it for the most dramatic of her four saves.
"I thought it was world-class save," said Juniper, who acknowledged that the 49ers, who reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament last season, had the majority of the quality chances. "There were several moments during the game that were match-changing moments and that save was spectacular."
UCI had 10 shots, two fewer than the hosts, who were shut out for the third time, the first since Sept. 7. UCI posted its first shutout of the season while managing just its second win in five overtime contests.
"I didn't really see the hand ball," Juniper said, "but we haven't had any tight calls like that this year, so its good. It feels good.
"That's a big game for all kinds of different reasons. We've been close on so many occasions against teams that were highly thought of this year and I thought that was another one of them. "
Senior Dana Sanderlin had three shots for UCI, including a drive in the 53rd minute that was cleared by a Long Beach defender standing just in front of the goal line.
"This feels like momentum now," Juniper said of the win. "We've been building, building, building. We always look forward to this one, the rivalry with Long Beach State. It has been back and forth, if you include the tournament games. But that's four out of the last four games in [the regular season] that we've beaten them now, which is awesome."
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