On a hot, windy day in Davis, the No. 17 UCSB men’s soccer team turned up the heat on the Big West Conference.
After allowing an own goal to give UC Davis the lead in the 39th minute, Gaucho freshman midfielder Finn Ballard McBride scored his team-leading ninth of the season just 32 seconds later to make it 1-1.
That’s the way it would end.
It was a result that gave UCSB a valuable point in the standings. What made it even more of an acceptable outcome for Gaucho coach Tim Vom Steeg was the fact he was down several key players — including superb forward Rodney Michael — with Injuries. UC Davis, which has won nine matches this season, entered the game tied with UCSB for second place in the Big West.
With the draw, the Gauchos and Aggies have 10 points each. That’s two behind league leader UC Irvine, which lost to Cal State Fullerton, 2-1, on Wednesday night.
In the 39th minute, UC Davis midfielder Kristian Heptner ripped a shot from 25 yards that caromed off Gaucho forward Will Baynham and into the goal to give the Aggies a 1-0 lead.
Baynham tried to clear the shot with a swipe of his left leg inside the 18-yard box. But the ball took a deflection off Baynham’s leg and went 14 yards behind him and past UCSB goalkeeper Ben Roach.
But on the ensuing kickoff, senior right back Noah Billingsley got free in the attacking end and blasted a cross from outside the 18-yard box on the right. UC Davis goalkeeper Wallis Lapsley deflected it right to Baynham, who was at the top of the 6-yard box.
Baynham took a hard right-footed shot that Lapsley stopped, but the ball bounced to Ballard McBride, who was standing almost on the goal line for an easy rebound goal.
UCSB went to 10-3-3 overall and 3-1-1 in the Big West, while UC Davis got to 9-4-2 and 3-1-1 in conference.
Vom Steeg knew it would be a difficult game for his team with the loss of five starters and the fact the Aggies had not lost at home all season.
“We went up there with the idea that a win or a tie would be good for us,” Vom Steeg said. “Davis is one of the tougher places in our conference to play … and we asked a lot of the guys with a limited roster.”
Vom Steeg had mixed feelings about the result.
While the Gauchos earned a point in the standings, they lost their talented attacking midfielder, Thibault Candia, in the first half with a left-hamstring injury. Candia was not able to return, and Vom Steeg isn’t sure when he can.
“I think we would feel a lot better and a lot more positive if we had gotten out of that game without any injuries,” he said. “Thibault was actually on the ball and dribbling when he felt his hamstring.
“He went to the ground and said he felt something. … That’s why it’s hard to be positive about the game. When you say, ‘Wow, it was a good result,’ it was a good result. But the fact that we’re walking out of the game down probably our most important attacking player, it just hurts us.”
Roach, as he’s been throughout the season, was outstanding in goal with nine saves.
Two of them had high degrees of difficulty, but Roach was able to come through.
“I actually thought today was one of his better performances,” Vom Steeg said. “It’s kind of hard to quantify what games are better than others because in most cases it might be just one save that we need him to make, and he does it.
“Maybe he’s not asked to do a lot in those games when he makes that one big save, but today he was always busy. … We had a lot of things going against us, but Ben stood tall and played big.”
Cal Poly, which beat Sacramento State, 1-0, for its third consecutive win on Wednesday, is in fourth place with nine points, just one point behind UCSB and UC Davis, and three points south of league leader UC Irvine.
The Gauchos play their next match at Cal State Northridge on Saturday at 7 p.m. They’ll have a week off before concluding the regular-season at Cal Poly on Nov. 2. The top six teams advance to the Big West Conference Tournament. The top two teams have byes in the quarterfinal round and a home game in the semifinals.
With Wednesday’s draw at Davis, UCSB remained firmly in the mix for one of the top two spots.