DAVIS, Calif. – Junior goalkeeper James Del Curto made six sensational saves, the Hornets received goals from seniors Alex Bettencourt and Nate Nugen and withstood a late UC Davis barrage for a 2-1 win on Saturday afternoon in Davis.
Sacramento State (8-6-2, 4-3-1 Big West) is now 3-0-1 in its last four games in Davis dating back to the 2012 season. The Hornets also earned some retribution against their rival after the Aggies came away with a win in Sacramento last Saturday.
"We worked extremely hard today," Sacramento State head coach Michael Linenberger said. "Davis carried the majority of the game but we defended to the death and our goalkeeper came up big on several occasions to keep us in the game. We capitalized on a few of the chances we created and that ended up being enough."
With the win the Hornets are now four points ahead of UC Davis (7-8-2, 3-5-0 Big West) for second place in the Big West North standings. Sacramento State clinched a berth in the Big West Tournament when Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara ended in a 0-0 draw later Saturday.
Sacramento State is still alive for the regular season North division title as well trailing UC Santa Barbara by five points with two games to play. The Hornets do control their own destiny to finish in second place, which would grant them a home game on Saturday, Nov. 5, in the opening round of the Big West Tournament.
On Saturday, Bettencourt scored his team-leading sixth goal of the year in the 17th minute. UC Davis was called for a foul atop its box and junior Trevor Jackson touched the free kick to the adjacent Bettencourt, who fired a shot around the wall and inside the left post.
Bettencourt nearly doubled the Hornet lead in the 31st minute as his shot off the right wing narrowly missed sneaking in the far post. He ended the game tied with Nugen for the team lead with three shots while Nugen placed two on goal.
In the 35th minute Del Curto made a sensational diving save on a shot from Kyle Higgins. On the ensuing corner kick Del Curto made another save on a header from Roy Boatang then made a third sensational stop on a rebound attempt by Higgins.
The Aggies came close to a goal again with a header to the back post that was cleared by the Hornet defense in the 40th minute. Less than 30 seconds into the second half Del Curto had to make another great diving save to maintain the Hornet lead.
UC Davis had several more prime scoring chances in the opening minutes of the second half but couldn't score. Instead, it was the Hornets that got the next goal to move to a 2-0 lead when Bettencourt created a turnover in the Aggie half and touched the ball to Nugen, who blasted a low shot to the far post from 20 yards out in the 61st minute.
"Davis was carrying the game the first 15 minutes (of the second half), they were crushing us and we couldn't get it out of our end or connect a pass, and then we go down and score on our first shot of the half," Linenberger said. "Soccer is a weird game with that. It's not easy to score goals and that's why you see so many teams that pack it in and go for the counter. We didn't do it by design today but we'll take it."
The Aggies continued to get some offensive pressure and got one goal back in the 68th minute when Steven Guzman was able to head in a cross from Dashiell MacNamara. Guzman nearly tied the game with another header try in the 70th minute but missed the far post by inches.
The Hornets were able to keep more possession over the last 20 minutes of the contest and nearly had another counter goal of their own while limiting the looks for the home team to close out the win.
UC Davis had a 20-8 overall advantage in shots and was 8-3 in shots on goal. The Aggies also had seven corner kicks while the Hornets had just two, but Del Curto and the Hornet defense came up big to spoil senior day for five graduating Aggies.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Sacramento State plays its final home game of the year hosting UC Santa Barbara at 3 p.m. Wednesday. The 10 Hornet seniors will be honored prior to their final home game.