SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Santa Clara University's men's soccer team took another step towards winning its first league title since 2007, using two first half goals to drop second-place St. Mary's College 2-1 Friday at Buck Shaw Stadium.
Santa Clara (9-4-5; 6-0-4 WCC) runs its unbeaten streak to 12 games and enter the final weekend of the regular season controlling their own playoff destiny. Wins against Portland and Gonzaga would give SCU the West Coast Conference title.
Entering the match, St. Mary's (10-6-1; 6-4-0 WCC) was one of four teams remaining in the championship race after beating USF Wednesday night. The Gaels had won four straight.
Erik Hurtado – the reigning WCC Player of the Week – set up freshman teammate Phillip Muscarella for the go-ahead goal 16-minutes in. Hurtado's perfectly placed baseline cross found Muscarella in position to score and the rookie starter finished it for his first collegiate goal.
Following an SMC foul deep in their own territory, Hurtado would score himself later in the first half. Brandon Zimmerman elevated a free kick that Hurtado headed-in. It was Hurtado's third goal in as many games. He leads the team with 13 points this season.
"When you have an exciting player like Hurtado and others up there that can score goals, all you need is the ball at his feet running at somebody - good things will happen," said Santa Clara's Cameron Rast, who was honored prior to the game for reaching the 100-win milestone as a head coach. "That was a great clipped ball to the back post for Phil's goal. The second goal was Hurtado's out of the air. Those were the difference tonight."
Trailing 2-0, SMC staged a late rally. The Gaels generated 11 corner kicks on the night and finally cashed in with 12 minutes to play when Agustin Cazarez's offering was cleaned up in traffic to put St. Mary's on the scoreboard.
"St. Mary's is a difficult team to play, they are athletic, committed, work hard and are well coached," said Rast. "We needed to get on top of them early to win it, and our guys did that."
Santa Clara was able to hold on and stay unbeaten in WCC play and atop the league standings with two games left (Portland, then Gonzaga next weekend).
"You can't play Portland before you play St. Mary's, you can't play Gonzaga before you play Portland," Rast said about the pressure of trying to win-out and take the title. "I thought this was the one that could be the most volatile and uncontrolled. This was the game I really wanted our guys to focus on."
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