SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -
Cal State Northridge junior Sagi Lev-Ari registered a hat trick and the No. 25 Matadors (15-5-1) defeated No. 10 UC Santa Barbara (12-5-3) 3-2 Friday evening in a Big West Conference semifinal contest at Harder Stadium. Lev-Ari, a 2013 All-Big West First Team selection, scored a penalty kick in the 78th minute to tie the match and then delivered the game winner in the 83rd.
"It's the best feeling in the world to score in any semifinal, and to score three is even better," said Lev-Ari. "Beto gave me two assists and I couldn't ask for more."
Scoreless at halftime, Lev-Ari opened the match with a header in the 58th minute. UCSB answered with two goals over the next 16 minutes to take the lead before Lev-Ari's late heroics. He now has 16 goals on the season.
The Matadors had an early chance to take the lead in the first half, but Edwin Rivas' rising shot glanced off the crossbar and over in the 18th minute. Rivas had a shot on goal in the 27th, but UCSB goalkeeper Josh McNeely dove to his right to stop the shot from sneaking inside the post.
The Gauchos had just one shot on the goal in the first half, a header by Duncan Backus that looped in the air and was easily caught by Adam Hobbs. Going into the halftime break, the Matadors led the shot margin 5-4 and each goalkeeper made a save.
UC Santa Barbara came out quickly in the second half as Ismaila Jome ripped off a shot that Hobbs saved just three and a half minutes after the start. Lev-Ari found the breakthrough for the Matadors exactly nine minutes later, finishing off a cross from Beto Velasquez.
Velasquez started the play with a long run up the right side of the field before sending a cross toward the left post. Lev-Ari was there to powerfully meet the ball with his head and put it into the back of the net from a few yards out.
"This is a team game and if they come, they come," said Velasquez, who now leads the Big West with nine assists on the year. "The goals and assists are secondary to me as long as I can help us win."
In the 64th minute the Gauchos were able to equalize thanks to a goal by Marshall Cazares. Jome played a ball over the top of the defense on the left side and Cazares volleyed it home near the left post.
The Gauchos briefly took the lead in the 72nd minute after Goffin Boyoko curled in a free kick from just outside the box to give the home side a 2-1 advantage. Just over a minute later, however, the momentum swung in the Matadors' favor when Kevin Garcia-Lopez was sent off following his second yellow card for a handball infraction.
In the 78th minute, Lev-Ari netted his second goal of the night from the penalty spot after David Turcios was dragged down inside of the box. The forward expertly placed the ball into the right corner with McNeely diving the opposite way to tie the match at 2-2.
Lev-Ari made it another career night as his goal in the 83rd completed his second hat trick of the season. Velasquez once again picked up the assist as his headed pass found the head of Lev-Ari before going across the goalmouth and into the left corner to put the Matadors ahead for good.
UCSB's Drew Murphy was also sent off for the Gauchos in the 90th minute after a hard foul near midfield.
Hobbs made two saves to pick up his 14th win of the season and move into a tie for third place on the single-season victories list at CSUN with Radames Lafaurie (2003) and Michael Abalos (2012). Lev-Ari now has 16 goals on the year, tying with Willie Sims (2004) and Jose Perez (1984) for seventh-most in a single season at CSUN.
With the win, the Matadors advance to their second straight Big West Conference Tournament Final and will travel to face the No. 18 UC Irvine Anteaters on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. at Anteater Stadium. UC Irvine defeated UC Davis 2-0 on Friday night to book their trip to the Final.
"Irvine does a number on us and they own us right now," said CSUN head coach Terry Davila. "We need to get more mentally prepared and tactically alert to move the ball against them because they are a fine squad."