IRVINE — A lengthy individual run that UC Irvine women's soccer coach Scott Juniper said he had been waiting for all season helped deliver a championship rematch the Anteaters have been longing for since last November.
UCI senior outside defender Amanda Hardeman sprinted most of the length of the field to be in position to score the game-winning goal in a 1-0 triumph over visiting UC Davis in the semifinals of the Big West Conference Tournament on Wednesday night.
The victory, the seventh in a row for No. 24-ranked UCI (14-3-2), creates a matchup against Long Beach State in Sunday's tournament final, set for noon at UCI.
Long Beach State (14-5-1), which topped Cal State Northridge, 2-0, in the other semifinal Wednesday afternoon, upset UCI in last year's tournament final, 1-0.
UCI, the regular-season conference champion, defeated second-place Long Beach State, 2-0, at home on Oct. 16.
"Long Beach is the biggest rivalry we have and exactly 12 months ago Sunday, we lost," said UCI senior defender Sarah Devine, who helped the 'Eaters record their sixth shutout during the winning streak. "We lost that game and watched [the 49ers] hold the trophy up. And this year, that's just not acceptable. It's not going to happen. I'm not going to sit there and watch them hold my trophy. It's ours. It's for Irvine."
Davis (11-7-1), which tied UCI in their previous meeting on Sept. 30 at Davis, made things difficult for the hosts.
UCI finished with a 14-8 advantage in shots and a 7-2 edge in corner kicks. The Anteaters controlled most of the play and opened the scoring in the 64th minute when Hardeman scored her second goal of the season on an assist by senior All-American inside back CoCo Goodson.
"It was an awesome effort by CoCo and Amanda," Devine said of the goal, which was Hardeman's second game-winner of 2011. "[Hardeman] just brings passion to our back line and you could see it in that run. She's the fastest runner on our team every time we do fitness and she just ran 70 yards and scored a goal. The defense really came through, literally."
Juniper said Hardeman's goal, a blast from 10 yards out on the right side, was indeed timely.
"She's fantastic," Juniper said of Hardeman, who had one shot and two assists as a junior, when the Santiago Canyon Community College transfer played in 19 games, all off the bench. "We've been trying to get her to make that run all season. I couldn't see her finish very well [from the bench], but it looked top class."
Goodson had three shots, as did UCI scoring leader and sophomore forward Natalia Ledezma, who came in with 12 goals and eight assists. Senior forward Lexi Kopf, who has 11 goals this season, had two shots for the winners.
A defense that has helped UCI outscore its last seven opponents, 16-1, was "rock solid" again, Juniper said.
Goodson, Devine, Hardeman and sophomore Zoya Farzaneh helped mute the Aggies offense, as did senior defensive midfielder Judy Christopher.
Freshman goalie Jennifer Randazzo had two saves to record her sixth shutout, the eighth of the season for UCI.
The Anteaters also benefited from some good fortune, when Davis senior forward Lisa Kemp sent a drive from directly in front that caromed off the crossbar and back onto the field in the 87th minute.
"It was a gorgeous shot and sometimes luck is with you," Devine said of the Aggies' best scoring chance.
"We dodged a bullet at the end there for sure," Juniper said of Kemp's shot. "But I think when you're playing well, good things happen."
Juniper is anxious to see that trend continue Sunday.
"We've waited 12 months to get this game and I think it has all played out," Juniper said. "I think it will be a great occasion."