UC Santa Barbara's Amy Hunter hooked a direct kick from 20 yards off the left hand of UC Irvine goalie Stephanie Boes and into the top right corner of the net Sunday, dealing the Anteaters' playoff hopes a severe blow.
Hunter's goal in the 101st minute propelled the 6-12 Gauchos to an unlikely 4-3 overtime victory at Anteater Stadium. Irvine outshot Santa Barbara, 35-4, in regulation, but the Gauchos made the most of their opportunities, scoring twice off direct kicks and once off a corner kick.
A week ago, Irvine was undefeated, ranked 14th in the nation and appeared to be a shoo-in for postseason play. But the Anteaters are now 12-2-3 after two losses and a tie in the last five days. Irvine lost to a very good San Diego team Wednesday in San Diego and rallied with three second-half goals to earn a 3-3 tie with San Diego State at home on Friday.
But Sunday's loss to Santa Barbara could have the most impact on Irvine's chances of making the playoffs. The Anteaters began the week in the No. 4 spot in the West Region rankings. The new ratings will be released today. The top six or seven teams in the West usually get an NCAA berth.
The Gauchos took the lead in the 33rd minute when forward Angela Harding slammed a free kick that caromed off an Irvine defender and into the net.
Anteater freshman Nicole Bucciarelli, who beat UCSB goalie Dana Visse twice on direct free kicks to tie the school record with 12 goals this season, scored in the 48th minute to tie the score, 1-1.
Freshman Dena Lundy put the Anteaters ahead with a header from 10 yards in the 65th minute, but the Gauchos came right back a minute later when midfielder Kenna Bertel knocked in a header off another free kick. Karna Forchler's header off a corner kick gave the Gauchos a 3-2 lead in the 73rd minute, but Bucciarelli scored again with 2 1/2 minutes left in regulation to send the game into overtime.
The Anteaters staged a frantic offensive attack in the final minutes of overtime. Defender Jaime Reichenbach's attempt to tie the score with a minute left sailed a couple of feet over the crossbar, and defender Claudia Ruggiero's shot from 20 yards hooked a couple of feet wide with 15 seconds left.
The Anteaters finish the regular season at home with games against Cal State Fullerton Friday night and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Saturday night.