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(Kason Clark / Daily Titan)

Cal State Fullerton men’s soccer clinched their spot in the Big West Tournament after defeating UC Riverside, 2-1, on Saturday night at Titan Stadium.

The win improved the Titans to 11-6-1 for the season, and a 3-4 record in Big West play. 

The Titans started the game aggressively, as they took seven shots in the first 30 minutes. They could not break through as Highlander goalkeeper Edwyn Gutierrez recorded two saves in that stretch. 

The Highlanders broke the tie with their first shot in the 30th minute when Ronaldo Lomeli passed by the Titan goalkeeper Paul-Andre Guerin to score. 

Falling behind early on during games is a trend that Titan head coach George Kuntz wants to fix for the conference tournament. 

“We don’t like to give up early goals,” Kuntz said. “We’ve been giving up early goals and that sets us behind the eight ball.”

The Highlanders took four more shots before the end of the half, but Guerin’s two saves kept the Titans within reach at halftime. 

Penalties played a huge role in the second half as the game got physically rough. Four yellow cards were handed out to UCR and one red card, which was handed out to midfielder Jonick Pineda. The Titans were also handed four yellow cards.

Kuntz attributed some of the animosity to the Highlanders defeating the Titans in the Big West tournament last year. While Kuntz thought his team could have handled it better, he commended them for not receiving a red card. 

Forward Christian Pinzon believed his team was ready to match the physicality of the Highlanders. 

We knew from the start it was going to be a physical game, it was going to be a hard game,” Pinzon said. “So (we) just had to strap our boots and accept the challenge.”

Pinzon showed he was up to the task after he scored on a penalty kick in the 56th minute to tie the game. 

The game remained scoreless until the Titans received their opportunity to enter the postseason. Oscar Flores went up for a penalty kick after a UCR defender committed a handball penalty. With the support of his team, Flores said he did not feel the pressure.

 “If I had made it, if I missed, I knew they were going to have my back,” Flores said. “So it made it a lot more confident and comfortable to take the kick and score.”

Flores used the penalty kick to score the game-winning goal in the 82nd minute. The Highlanders took four shots in the remaining seven minutes, but thanks to two saves from Guerin, the Titans held on for the victory. 

The Titans finished the game with 19 shots while the Highlanders took 13. Both teams took six shots on goal. 

This is the sixth consecutive season where the Titans reached the Big West Tournament under Kuntz. Their first game will be Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The Titans lost to the Mustangs, 3-1, earlier this season on Oct. 16.

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