The chattering crowd slowly fell silent as redshirt junior attacker Austin Stewart prepared to take a penalty shot in the third quarter of a tie game. His shot into the right side of the net brought a roar from the bleachers and a 7-6 lead to No. 6 Long Beach (11-11, 3-2 GCC). The 49ers went on to a 8-7 win against No. 11 UC Irvine.
The win Friday came on senior night at the Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center.
“We have seven different seniors and this group is pretty special,” head coach Gavin Arroyo said.
The 49ers took an early 2-1 lead on a goal by defender Austin Stevenson, but UCI scored on its next possession each time Long Beach took the lead in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, freshman utility Garrett Zaan scored from the attacking left side to tie the game and extend his goal scoring streak to 11 games.
“I feel like my teammates have been giving me the ball a lot more and letting me do what I need to do to help this team win,” Zaan said.
Both teams played a physical game, but the Anteaters looked especially intent to knock the 49ers off the ball.
“We knew UCI was gonna be physical, they have a bunch of physical guys, we expected it so we did our best to match that,” Stewart said.
The teams continued to go back and forth. A mid-range strike by senior attacker Chandler Kaltenbach made it 4-4 at halftime.
“[The seniors] really set in stone the hard working culture and academics that we constantly try to push, it can be a challenge and this group really just took that and ran with it,” Arroyo said.
The last four head-to-head contests between UCI and LBSU have been decided by one goal.
Neither team was able to obtain the two-goal lead they each pursued. The match would enter the final frame in a 7-7 tie.
“You gotta give Irvine a lot of credit, they played really well tonight and we’re just happy to get out with a win,” Arroyo said.
The Anteaters were as relentless on the attack as the 49ers were on the block, as the 49ers rejected multiple shot attempts into the bleachers.
“They’re our natural rivals so even if somebody is a little bit better than somebody else it’s always gonna be a close game,” Arroyo said.
One block in the fourth quarter unleashed a flurry of white water as the 49ers attempted to take the lead on the counter attack. Redshirt senior attacker Max Cusator received an outlet pass behind the defense, pump faked and scored what would be the game winning goal.
LBSU begins the GCC tournament Friday. Times and locations for the tournament to be announced.