FULLERTON, Calif. -
Senior midfielder Chris Smith delivered a rocket shot in the 29th minute that held up as the game winner as the No. 20 Cal State Northridge Matadors (13-4-1, 5-3-1 Big West) shut out the Cal State Fullerton Titans (6-10-1, 3-5-1 Big West) 1-0 on Wednesday night at Titan Stadium. With the win the Matadors, defending conference champions, clinched their second straight bid to the Big West Conference Tournament and third in school history.
Northridge, needing a victory to keep pace with UC Irvine in the Big West's South Division, came out firing on all cylinders and registered the first shot of the match just 59 seconds in when Mynor Giron's attempt was blocked at the top of the box.
In the 27th minute, a scrum in front of the net nearly led to the breakthrough for the Matadors. With Smith, Sagi Lev-Ari and Trevor Morley all converging in the box on a free kick the ball made its way to Fullerton goalkeeper Robbie Hannon. Hannon had it slip from his grasp while on the ground but a teammate was able to clear the ball off the line before Smith could get to it near the right post.
Just over a minute later the ball would find the back of the net for the Matadors thanks to the play of Smith, Lev-Ari and Carlos Benavides, who subbed in shortly before. Following a throw in for Northridge in the 29th minute the ball fell to Benavides, who poked it forward to Lev-Ari.
With his back to the net Lev-Ari dropped a pass back toward midfield for Smith who met it in stride and blasted a shot from distance into the top left of the goal past Hannon. With the assist, Benavides moved into a tie with John Tronson (1984-86) for eighth all-time for career assists at CSUN with 23.
At the halftime break the Matadors led the Titans in shots 8-3 and corner kicks 2-1. Northridge changed up the style a little in the second half, opting to sit back in hopes of catching Fullerton with a counterattack.
CSUN goalkeeper Damien Lewis, making his first career start, was tested just once all night and recorded a save for his first Northridge shutout. In the 56th minute, a shot by Mark Vasquez was saved by Lewis without much danger.
In the second half the Matadors added seven more shots and six more corner kicks to their total and allowed the Titans to take just six shots all night. With time running down at the end of the match, Northridge played for possession to secure the victory.
All eyes turn to Saturday now as the Matadors get set for the regular-season finale at UC Irvine at 7 p.m. With a win, Northridge will earn a share of the South Division title. If CSUN can win by two goals or more, the Matadors will win the tiebreaker with UCI and earn the top seed in next week's conference tournament.
Highlight - Chris Smith's Goal: