FULLERTON, Calif. -- Cal State Fullerton senior Gerzon Blanco finished with a goal and an assist while senior Jesse Escalante added the eventual game-winner in the 73rd minute on Saturday night, lifting the host Titans to a 2-1 "Senior Night" victory over UC Riverside and a berth into the 2012 Big West Conference Tournament.
Fullerton (8-11-1 overall, 4-5-1 in the Big West) claimed the No. 2 seed out of the South Division and will travel to North Division champion UC Davis for a semifinal match-up against the Aggies on Wednesday (Nov. 7). Cal State Northridge, champions of the South Division, will host Cal Poly in the other semifinal.
UC Riverside, which entered the night just one point back of the Titans, finishes its season at 10-8 overall, 3-7 in conference play.
"What a special night! To honor our seniors and clinch a spot in the tournament is what this team deserves," Head Coach Bob Ammann said. "I said Wednesday we didn't want to back into the tournament but we wanted to earn it. We certainly earned it. We never once spoke of needing only a draw to qualify, but rather to go out and do the things we need to do.
"Tonight was a testament to the character and desire of our players. We went out and beat a very good team for the second time in two weeks. A team that was nationally ranked and came into conference on a roll. So happy for and proud of our guys."
Blanco's fourth of the year in the seventh minute of the match put Fullerton ahead early as he chipped in a rebound off a blocked shot by Ian Ramos for the 1-0 lead. That lasted through halftime until late in the contest when Blanco again had a foot in a Titan game-winner, as his header went uncleared and Escalante kicked it in from close range for the 2-0 advantage.
The Highlanders got a goal back just seven minutes later as Aaron Long netting his sixth of the season, skidding a low shot through traffic and in off long cross by Ruben Valencia from the right side that was kept in by Richie Osborne and tapped back to Long for the score.
Junior Bryan Escalante and the Fullerton defense then turned Riverside away for the final 10 minutes as the Titan goalkeeper made a pair of saves on shots by Leslie Hayden and Otis Earle as time ran out.
The Titans edged the Highlanders in the shot column, 14-13, and had six corners to three for UCR. Blanco finished with a match-high six shots while Long and Osborne each had three for Riverside.