The victory in the Indiana University Natatorium also provided Coach Ted Newland with his first break against Cal, the two-time defending champions and winners of eight titles in the competition's 21 years.
Newland, the Irvine coach since 1965, had led the Anteaters to NCAA championships in 1970 and 1982, but his teams had never beaten Cal in the finals.
"Berkeley has beaten me four times in the finals of this tournament, so this is a very sweet win," Newland said. "But, then again, aren't they all sweet?"
The Anteaters, who finished the season 27-6, were led by senior Dan Smoot, who scored five goals and was named the tournament's most valuable player. Three of Smoot's goals came in the fourth quarter and turned a one-goal Cal lead into a two-goal Irvine lead.
"They really keyed on (Julian) Harvey and (Tom) Warde all evening, so Dan Smoot was able to create quite a great game for himself," Newland said.
Cal's Chris Oeding, formerly of Corona del Mar High, had scored with four seconds remaining in the third quarter to give the Golden Bears their first lead of the second half, 7-6.
Smoot, who played at Tustin High, tied it, 7-7, with 4:57 remaining in the match and Irvine a man up after Cal's Chris Humbert was ejected.
Less than a minute later, Smoot scored again. After a save, Irvine goalkeeper Chris Duplanty led Smoot down the pool with a long pass. Smoot passed to Skylar Putnam, who returned it to Smoot for the goal.
With about three minutes remaining, Duplanty, who was named first-team all-tournament, blocked a backhanded shot by Humbert and passed to a breaking Smoot, who scored his fifth goal.
"I saw the shot coming and I knew Chris was there to stop it, so I took off and, luckily, Chris threw me a perfect ball," Smoot said.
Smoot's final goal gave the Anteaters a 9-7 lead, the largest margin of the match for either team. Cal closed it to 9-8 on a goal by Rich Ambidge with 46 seconds remaining, but on Cal's last offensive attempt, Duplanty blocked a shot by Ivan Ortiz and the Anteaters ran out the clock.
It was the second one-goal victory in as many days for Irvine, the tournament's second-seeded team. The Anteaters defeated third-seeded Stanford, 8-7, in Saturday's semifinals.
Warde, who gave the Anteaters a 6-5 lead with his only goal to open the second half, was the tournament's leading scorer with 11 goals. Warde, a senior who played at Marina High in Huntington Beach, also was named first-team all-tournament. Smoot and Harvey were named to the second team.
It was Irvine's ninth time in the NCAA final. In 1970, the Anteater's defeated UCLA for the championship. In 1982 they defeated Stanford, 7-4, to complete a 30-0 season.