IRVINE, Calif. --- An early goal from Enrique Cardenas led to a defensive-heavy match that the top-seeded Anteaters handled en route to a 2-0 shutout of UC Davis Friday night at Anteater Stadium.
After a pair of goals off corner kicks to end the regular season, the team's first in over two seasons, Thomas Janjigian lined up for a another corner in the 12th minute. The ball landed on Cardenas who crushed a shot off the short hop into the upper right corner to get the scoring started early making it 1-0.
UC Davis (9-9-3, 4-4-2) pressured early including a pair of shots from Alex Aguiar with one on goal. Omar Zeenni felt some pressure of his own in the Aggie net as the 'Eaters had a pair of shots on net turned away as well.
Christopher Santana pumped out five shots in the first half including a beautiful snipe that careen off the corner of the frame. Even with the 8-3 shot advantage at the half, the 'Eaters clung to a 1-0 lead.
The tone changed in the second half with some early fouls as the intensity heighten. UC Irvine (13-4-3, 7-2-1) sunk back into defensive mode to protect its lead. The Aggies had a couple solid chances including Ryan Gross's blast from 10 yards out that veered over the left post.
The 'Eater defense held UCD to zero shots on goal in the second half and just the two total in the match.
UCI would add some offense late as a high, clearing ball was won by Lester Hayes III who turned and planted a pass ahead for Santana who would finally bury a goal on his sixth shot running on the keeper and sliding it underneath him to extend the lead to 2-0 in the 85th minute and send UCI into the Big West final.
The Anteaters move to 4-1 all-time in Big West semifinal matches heading to its fourth championship match where it has outscored opponents 11-5.
Cardenas' strike was his team-leading eighth of the year and fourth game-winner. Santana notched his fifth, fourth coming against a Big West opponent. Hayes III added his second assist while Janjigian now totals four with three in his last two matches.
Michael Breslin kept the peace in net with his Big West-leading eighth shutout collecting two saves and dropping his goals-against-average to 0.86.
It is the sixth season in which UC Irvine has topped 13 victories, and it will attempt to get its third of the season against the 24th-ranked Matadors of CSUN on Sunday, Nov. 17. The 2:00 p.m. match will commence at Anteater Stadium resulting in an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament for the winner.