SANTA CLARA, Calif. – In a matchup between the two teams projected to finish atop the West Coast Conference standings, Santa Clara's Erik Hurtado and homegrown product Carlos Montes each scored second-half goals to lead the Broncos to a hard-fought 2-0 victory over visiting San Diego. It was the WCC opener for both schools.
Santa Clara (4-4; 1-0 WCC) has now won three-straight and seems to be finding its rhythm following its non-conference schedule, which was loaded with some of the nation's top teams.
San Diego (2-6; 0-1 WCC) picked up a pair of early-season wins, including shutout victories over Ohio State and Houston Baptist, but has now lost four in a row. The Torero offense has produced just one goal since beating Houston Baptist on Sept. 9.
"Well we've played a lot of good teams in our non-conference," said four-time WCC Coach of the Year Cameron Rast. "When you look at Duke and N.C. State and go to Creighton, all these teams have the athletes and the guys that can really play. Given that, I think that has allowed us to raise our standard, so by the time we got to conference our standard was high enough to compete for every match and win every match."
Similar to games past, the SCU-USD matchup was fiercely competitive and extremely physical. USD's starting goalkeeper, Michael D'Arrigo, was knocked out of the game midway through the first half when he absorbed a violent collision with Harrison Hanley in front of the Torero net.
Hanley was charging hard in the open field, attempting to knock in a rebound stemming from one of five shots Friday by Hurtado. As it turned out, with both D'Arrigo and Hanley on their backs, the ball rolled inches from the goal line before being swept away at the last moment by a sliding Torero defender.
Hanley's effort against D'Arrigo was hardly Santa Clara's only scoring chance in the first half. The Broncos out-shot the Toreros 9-4 in the opening half and 14-8 on the night.
"I think we played really well, coming out strong and letting them know this was not going to be an easy game for them," said Montes.
SCU freshman starter Max Ornstil ricocheted a long blast off the left post in the early-going, nearly giving Santa Clara an immediate edge. Montes had a good look inside the box that sailed high and just prior to the intermission, both Hurtado and Hanley almost put one past USD reserve keeper Drew Ilijevski.
Larry Jackson made a diving save just moments into the second half to keep USD off the scoreboard and the game tied. Jackson – SCU's all-league keeper from East Palo Alto - finished the night with four saves and posted his second consecutive shutout win.
On the other end, the Broncos finally broke the scoreless tie with 31 minutes left in regulation, thanks to Hurtado's ability on the right wing. Hurtado blew past a would-be defender then beat Ilijevski to the far post. When Montes scored moments later on a perfectly placed free kick from 15 yards out, the SCU celebration resumed and their was little doubt that the Broncos would give up a 2-0 lead in front of their home crowd.
"That was my shot at redemption. I had missed one in the first half so I had to put that one in," Montes said about his game-clinching goal. "When I walked up there I was really focused on getting it over the wall and into the net."
Santa Clara is back on the field Sunday afternoon when the Broncos' three-game WCC-opening homestand continues against LMU. Kick-off is slated for 2 p.m.
"This game doesn't get you into the playoffs, does not win you conference, it's just one game," Rast said when asked about looking ahead to LMU. "The critical piece to it is that is you have to take a step. Tonight we took a good step. So now it's important for us to understand that you have to win a weekend."