Chico State downs UC San Diego in first playoff match


Chico State men’s soccer huddles up before their playoff game against UC San Diego on Tuesday. Photo credit: Connor Mcpherson

They say a 2-0 lead is the worst kind of lead in soccer, but the Wildcats have proven otherwise. Coming off of a second straight 2-0 shutout against the 20th best team in the country in UC Sand Diego, Chico has proven that they are a force to be reckoned with not only in their conference, but in the nation as well.

With players like Jeremiah Egujie proving he can both score and assist when needed, Damion Lewis getting shutouts nearly every game and a variety of talented underclassmen that can step up and compete at a high level, Chico State has one of the most skillful teams in the country. The Wildcats hope to take their hot streak into La Jolla, where they will compete in the final four.

“They’re a really good team, top 20 in the country, and for us to beat them twice in a row should say something to the NCAA tournament committee, and should be an argument that we should be in the tournament,” Coach Felipe Restrepo said on the two shutout victories.

Chico State drives into UC San Diego territory with the ball in the first half on Tuesday. Photo credit: Connor Mcpherson

This game featured a goal by junior Alex Fluitt, who scored his first career goal within three minutes of the start. This goal couldn’t have come at a much bigger moment either, as it gave them that confidence-boosting first goal, and took the wind out of UCSD’s sails early.

“If you go through a dry spell that’s a full year, you’re just hoping you can get one in a time of need, so I was just happy I could get one tonight,” Fluitt said about his goal.

The second goal was scored in the following half on a free kick from Fabian Roman, that Justin Bethke then headed in. Before this goal, the Tritons had played a good game, controlling the ball for about half the time, and drawing even in terms of shots, but Chico played aggressively when they got the ball, and UCSD was not ready for it.

“It’s all our team. The work we put in all season is finally paying off and it’s showing,” Bethke said. “We’re not even thinking about last game, we’re just kind of moving onto the next playoff game and anything can happen in the playoffs.”
Justin Bethke scores the second goal for Chico State at the 55th minute against UC San Diego on Tuesday. Photo credit: Connor Mcpherson

Despite being the highest of the two ranked California Collegiate Athletic Association teams, SDSU was no match for the Wildcats, and will face an early off-season this year. Chico, on the other hand, will face the other ranked CCAA team, CSU Los Angeles, and this is a team they have lost against in the past. This will be a tough test, but should they win, it would strengthen their résumé for the NCAA Division II tournament.

The players and coaches are confident, all believing that they are a better team now than when they lost to CSULA last time on Sept. 14. Since that game, Chico State has lost only two games, and have been playing like they are on a mission.

“We’re way better than we were when we played them,” Restrepo said. “So we’re excited to see what this team has to bring.”

The game against Cal State LA takes place in La Jolla this Friday at 4:30 p.m. Should the Wildcats win, they will play in the tournament final the following Sunday.

Connor McPherson can be reached at [email protected] or @theGOATMcphers1 on Twitter.