The Cal State Fullerton men’s soccer team entered Thursday night’s NCAA Tournament game against Santa Clara University coming off a second consecutive Big West Tournament victory and looking to erase the memory of a first-round loss in 2014.
Playing at Titan Stadium and facing an opponent 22 spots below them in the RPI rankings, the Titans had a fair chance of going through to the second round. However, Fullerton churned out a dismal performance on the night and came out on the wrong end of a humbling 3-0 loss.
Fullerton looked like it might take an early lead in the game when Ronaldo Pineda picked up a rebound off a throw-in from the right wing in the eighth minute. Pineda fired high from 15 yards, but Broncos goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh did well to make the one-handed diving save to deny the freshman midfielder.
Santa Clara responded one minute later when one of its players found himself inside the box on the left and fired a low shot past an outstretched David Rodriguez Elias. The shot looked destined for goal, but Robert Coronado made a spectacular sliding last-ditch goal-line clearance to keep the scoreline level.
Santa Clara, however, would not be denied two minutes later when Luis Urias pounced on a corner from the left and headered to the far post to put his team up 1-0.
In the 31st minute, Santa Clara had the chance to double its lead thanks to a defensive gaffe from the Fullerton center-backs.
On a counterattack, Carlos Delgadillo got on the receiving end of a long ball, forcing Alex Heilmann to shift and cover. Heilmann tried to body out Delgadillo as center-back partner Mitchell Bell went to clear, but Bell whiffed at the ball, allowing Delgadillo to go through on goal. Thankfully for Fullerton, Heilmann was able to recover and poke away the danger before Delgadillo could shoot.
However, Fullerton would not be so lucky in the 36th minute.
Another long ball on a counter fell to Max Ornstill, who shook off Hielman before going one-on-one with Elias. Elias dove left before Ornstill even took his shot, allowing the Broncos midfielder to instead pass to a wide open Delgadillo, who slotted in from four yards to make it 2-0.
Fullerton tried to get back on track early in the second half. In the 48th minute, Nicolo D’Amato fired from 30 yards, his shot seemingly destined for the top left post. Unfortunately for Fullerton, the ball dipped just a tad too late and instead missed the target.
While D’Amato’s shot might have seemed indicative of a team ready to put everything on the line, the final push for Fullerton never came.
A penalty kick goal from Broncos midfielder Edson Cordona in the 53rd minute proved the death knell for a Titans squad that could just not find the breakthrough in what remained of the game.
While the Titans’ season came meekly to an end with a disappointing loss, there is no mistaking that this young Fullerton team, full of freshmen and sophomores, exceeded expectations.
“One of the expectations coming into this season,” said CSUF Head Coach George Kuntz, “was, ‘What do we really have, especially with so many freshmen? How are they going to react to this and how are we going to get back to (last season’s) level?’ And they showed a lot of resiliency.
“The only thing that I don’t want these guys to get into is, ‘That’s good enough,’ because for us — the coaching staff and people that have been around this game — there’s only one way where we’re really gonna be happy: is to get to the pinnacle,” Kuntz said. “That’s what we want to do. We want to take this program to a place it’s never been.”