IRVINE — The UC Irvine women's soccer team had posted two straight shutouts in preseason exhibition games and carried over a seven-match unbeaten streak from the 2012 season. But the only zero that mattered in the Anteaters' nonconference season opener against visiting Cal on Friday night was the Golden Bear's historic dominance of their neighbors to the south.
With its 3-1 victory, No. 20-ranked Cal improved to 9-0-1 all-time against UCI, which managed a 2-2 tie in the two team's previous meeting in 2010.
The Golden Bears capitalized on the UCI's lack of height in goal on both of their first two goals, which sailed over or off of outstretched 5-foot-4 UCI goalkeeper Jennifer Randazzo.
To be fair, even the tallest keepers would not have had a chance on the opening goal, blasted from 30 yards out just under the crossbar by senior forward Rachel Mercik, who gathered in a turnover in the 17th minute.
But a retreating Randazzo managed to get one hand on the second goal, a looping shot from the top of the box by senior midfielder Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick in the 52nd minute. The shot, which UCI Coach Scott Juniper said was deflected into its arching orbit, caromed off of Randazzo's palm and continued into the back of the net to put a damper on the start of UCI's 30th season.
Cal sophomore Ifeoma Onumonu, the Pac 12 Freshman of the Year in 2012, added on in the 68th minute. She fielded a through ball over the top of the UCI defense and chipped it up and over a charging Randazzo from near the top of the box.
Randazzo, who had 10 combined saves in the exhibition season, made three saves Friday, two of which were brilliant diving stops.
UCI senior Natalia Ledezma, whom Juniper had played some on the back line in the exhibition season, was a noteworthy catalyst for the Anteaters at forward on Friday. She took a team-best three shots, including a pair of quality chances spanning both halves.
Ledezma's first near-miss came in the 30th minute, when she got behind the defense on a pass from Cami Privett and had an open look 15 yards out. But the bounding ball appeared to go off her shin, instead of her foot and sailed well over the cage.
UCI threatened again in the 40th minute, when senior Zoya Farzaneh found herself open 25 yards directly in front of the goal. But she misfired well wide to the right.
UCI finally got on the board when freshman Sammie James collected an errant Cal pass just inside the 18-yard box and delivered a low drive inside the near post in the 81st minute.
Junior Bianca Frontino, a two-time JC All-American at Santiago Canyon Community College, came off the bench to provide a spark offensively late in the second half for the 'Eaters.
"[Ledezma] is one of the best players in the country," Juniper said. "The game is very different when she is up [top]. She makes everybody around her better, but we've got to catch up to her speed of thought."
Cal finished with a 7-6 edge in shots and Golden Bears keeper Emily Kruger was credited with one save.
"The overall performance was pretty good," Juniper said of his team. "How we conceded three goals with that performance was a bit of a mystery."
UCI, which played without starting center back Haley O'Brien (thigh injury), will play host to UNLV on Sunday at 1 p.m.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun