State title dreams fall short for Pirates in loss to Long Beach

State title dreams fall short for Pirates in loss to Long Beach

WOODLAND HILLS -- A fantastic season by the Orange Coast College men's volleyball team didn't not have a fantastic finish as the Pirates lost to Long Beach City College in four sets on Saturday night at the California Community College Athletic Association Men's Volleyball State Championship, 32-30, 18-25, 25-21, 27-25.

The Pirates (21-3), winners of the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference and winners of 12 straight heading into Saturday's championship, had 34 hitting errors and 14 service errors, which proved costly against a Vikings' team that closed out the season winners of 21 straight after starting the year 0-2.

Long Beach, on the other hand, had just 20 hitting errors and four service errors, giving the Vikings a +24 in those departments. Those top-heavy stats helped the Vikings overcome a 63-47 kills advantage by OCC and a 62-45 advantage in assists by the Pirates.

"When we played the way we can play, we were the better team tonight, but Long Beach wouldn't allow us to play that game the entire night," OCC head coach Travis Turner said. "Yes, we struggled in our hitting and our serving, but we weren't consistent enough on our basic passing and that's what the difference was tonight. Long Beach is a good team and they exposed a bit of our weakness tonight."

Adrian Faitalia and Gianluca Grasso each had 20 kills  and a combined 17 digs for the Pirates, while Matthew Ujkic added 10 kills and five blocks. Wyatt Henson chipped in nine kills and eight digs and Jake Adams dished out 58 assists to go along with six digs. 

LBCC was led offensively by Joshua Nehls (15 kills, six digs), Charles Belvin (12 kills) and Andrew Pearson (11 kills). Gary Trejo had 44 assists, while Jordan Molina earned MVP honors with a match-high 14 digs and four aces.

Coast came out on fire early in the first set and carried a 15-9 lead, but Long Beach came back and used a 10-4 run to even things at 19.

Long Beach continued to press and led 24-22 before OCC fought off four set points and actually earned a set point of its own at 27-26, courtesy of a Grasso put-away.

But the Vikings fought off back-to-back set points against them and finally, with the score tied at 30, a Nehls kill and a Pirate hitting error ended the first set in favor of Long Beach.

Despite the rough opening-set loss, Coast bounced back and again, pushed out to a comfortable lead at 19-14. But this time, there would be no LBCC rally as the Pirates played their style of volleyball to perfection and had only four hitting errors the entire set en route to evening the match at a set apiece.

In the third set, Coast led 13-9 before an 8-1 run by the Vikings put them out in front for the remainder of the set. Half of LBCC's points during that pivotal run came from errors by the Pirates.

For the first time in the match, it was Long Beach which jumped out early in the fourth set led, 14-9, but the Pirates continued to fight and used a 15-7 run to pull ahead of LBCC, 24-21 and were had three-set-point opportunities to even the match and force a fifth-and-deciding set.

A Belvin kill and a Molina ace made it 24-23 and forced OCC into a timeout. On the next play, a mistimed pass led to an attack error by the Pirates and the set was tied at 24. 

Molina picked the right time for his fourth-and-final ace of the night, putting the Vikings ahead, 25-24, but Grasso would respond with a put-away and the set was tied at 25.

But from there LBCC used an attack error and a blocking error for the final two points of the match, giving the Vikings the state title, while handing the Pirates their ninth state runner-up in school history. In all, OCC now has 15 top-two finishes, including six state championships and 25 Final Four appearances in the school's 35-year history.

"These guys gave me everything they could give and that's all a coach can ask for," Turner said. "We ran into a great team and we didn't have our best night, but I'm super proud of my guys and the season we had."