Crabby makes it count

FULLERTON — For the first 66 minutes, Wednesday at Cal State Fullerton, it was better to be lucky than good.

But the game's most well-deserved goal in the 67th minute proved to be a game-winner for the No. 7-ranked UC Irvine men's soccer team, which came away with a 2-1 Big West Conference victory.

The win moves UCI (10-2, 2-1 in conference) into a first-place tie with Cal State Northridge and UC Davis. Both have six points (three points for a win and one for a tie). The Anteaters play host to Northridge, which was idle Wednesday, on Saturday at 7 p.m.

After UCI scored when a ball from Jimmy Turner slipped through the grasp of the Titans' goalkeeper in the 13th minute, the Titans cashed in some good fortune of their own, when Michael Denny's cross was deflected by a UCI defender into the net for the equalizer in the 38th minute.

But UCI freshman Juan "Crabby" Gutierrez finished a deft give-and-go in the box with senior Miguel Ibarra, who posted his team-best fifth assist of the season, to break the deadlock.

It was the second goal of the season for Gutierrez, a former Orange County scoring leader at JSerra High, who came off the bench to start the second half at a forward spot.

It was the first goal of the season for Turner, a longtime defender who played exclusively in the midfield Wednesday. Turner collected a rebound off his own throw-in on the left wing. After dribbling in about five yards, he launched a light chip across the goal crease toward the far post. Fullerton keeper Trevor Whiddon reached above his head to get both hands on the ball, but he could not hold it and it bounced into the cage.

"I kind of got underneath it and I was lucky enough that it went into the back of the net," Turner said.

Fullerton (6-3-2, 0-2), which came in with its best start since 1999, knotted things when Denny's booming drive from the right wing bent away from the goal line, but onto the foot of pivoting UCI defender Jonathan Rivas. The ball caromed back toward the goal and over keeper Andrew Fontein, who had no chance.

UCI Coach George Kuntz said he has been easing Gutierrez, who missed last season with a torn ACL, back into the mix.

"He has been training really well," Kuntz said of Gutierrez. "It's difficult for a freshman to step into this environment. But he's got cold blood running through his veins. The guy is a goal scorer. In training, he's one of the best finishers we have."

Kuntz said he anticipated a tough game against Fullerton, which upset UCI in the semifinals of the conference tournament last season. That loss helped the NCAA tournament selection committee snub UCI, the conference's regular-season champion.

"It's our home-town Darby," Kuntz said of the matchup, using a term from England to describe a clash between teams from the same region. "[The Titans] have a lot of seniors and it's a very hungry team. This wasn't one of our best games, but if you can grind it out, it's the sign of a good team," Kuntz said. "We didn't really play as well as we can. I didn't see the energy in the warm-up that I normally see in our guys."

UCI finished with 13 shots, three more than the Titans, who suffered their first home loss in four games this season.

Fontein had four saves, while Whiddon had five.

Turner and Christopher Santana had three shots apiece, while Ibarra had two for the winners.

UCI played without Enrique Cardenas (sore knee), who has five goals and two assists this season.

Fullerton was without scoring leader Kevin Venegas (five goals and three assists), who sat out after a double-yellow-card ejection on Saturday.

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