The tears welling in the eyes of UC Irvine defender Jordan Bruce had nothing to do with the first goal of her collegiate career. Instead, Bruce and her Anteaters, dominant yet still doomed, were writhing as a result of their 2-1 Big West Conference loss to visiting Long Beach State on Thursday night.
"It's the sport we play," UCI Coach Scott Juniper said. "You can dominate a game and lose. I don't think that happens in any other sport that you can dominate a game to that degree, literally in every department. What did they have three shots on goal? One of [those three shots] was a back pass and the other two wound up in the net. "
UCI (8-6, 3-2 in conference), which entered the match in a three-way tie for the conference lead and on a three-game winning streak, posted a 14-4 advantage in shots, including eight shots on goal to the 49ers' three.
But Long Beach State freshman forward Mimi Rangel made the most of her two shots, burying both for the difference. Rangel, who came in leading her team with 10 points (two points for her three goals and one each for her four assists), opened the scoring in the 22nd minute by firing in a shot from the top of the box that sailed over UCI goalkeeper Corey Tobin, under the crossbar and in.
Rangel tacked on in the 53rd minutes, settling a pass from Hannah Sanders near the top of the box and lobbing a left-footed shot into the upper portion of the net.
The two-goal cushion against a UCI team that had lost all four of its previous games in which it had trailed at halftime, seemed monumental. But the hosts made it appear tenuous.
"You congratulate [the 49ers] for defending the rest of the game, even though we had I don't know how many good chances," Juniper said.
Two of those chances came within seconds of one another in the 58th minute, as senior defender Zoya Farzaneh converted a through ball from near midfield into what appeared to be a point-blank goal. But Farzaneh was ruled offsides, negating the would-be goal.
Seconds later, Laura McGrail boomed a shot that caromed off the bottom of the crossbar and appeared to spin downward on the goal side of the goal line, before backspin carried it back onto the field of play. But the would-be score, nearly impossible to see definitively in real time, was not recognized by the officials.
Bruce, a senior who had not scored in 53 previous matches, erased the shutout in the 63rd minute, bending a free kick from 22 yards out, near the corner of the 18-yard box, around a wall of defenders and into the net.
"At the moment it was pretty cool," Bruce said of the goal that Juniper called phenomenal. "It sucks it took me this long to score and it's definitely not quite as sweet when nothing came from it [in the win column]."
Frustration was about the only byproduct that Juniper could take from the result, the first loss to Long Beach in the last seven regular-season matchups with their Black-and-Blue Series rivals.
"We outplayed them for 90 minutes in every area," said Juniper, who could also point to a 7-1 edge for UCI in corner kicks. "Every one-v-one [we dominated] and they couldn't connect passes. All they did all night was foul us. That's all they did. Every time we connected three passes, they fouled us."
UCI, however, was called for 13 fouls, three more than the visitors (8-5-1, 2-1-1).
The loss was only the third in UCI's last 10 games, seven of which were victories.
"None of us thought we were losing and everyone definitely felt like we had the ability to come back, " Bruce said. "We had one goal called back, unfortunately, and we let so many crosses go through the box. We just couldn't get one. It wasn't our night."
McGrail had six shots for UCI, which received two shots each from Bruce, Natalia Ledezma and Bianca Frontino.