Corona del Mar High swept rival Los Angeles Loyola for the second time in less than two weeks Wednesday evening and will defend its CIF Southern Section Division 1 boys' volleyball championship.
That's certainly special, but what really has the Sea Kings excited is that their foe in Saturday's final at Cerritos College is their fiercest rival, Newport Harbor.
Seniors Kevin Kobrine and Brandon Browning feasted on Patrick Paragas' feeds, combining for 23 kills, as No. 3-seeded CdM rolled to a 25-21, 25-23, 25-18 semifinal triumph at home over the No. 2 Cubs.
The Sea Kings (30-4) will be making their fourth straight Division 1 finals appearance. The showdown with No. 1 Newport Harbor (32-0) has everyone, well, giddy.
"It's just another game," Browning said, "but we've always got that in the back of our minds: a Battle of the Bay final. That's just going to give us and them extra motivation to come out and play our hardest, and we've got to expect everyone to go 100%. We have to do everything we can to pull it out."
Newport Harbor's sweep of No. 4 South Torrance sets up a third meeting between Newport Beach's public high schools. CdM lost the first two, falling in the Orange County Championships title match at Edison High on March 19 and in the annual Battle of the Bay rivalry match at Newport Harbor on April 7.
"It's the stuff storybooks are made of," said CdM head coach Steve Conti, who has twice faced the Sailors in section finals, falling in Division I in 1999 and claiming the title the following year. "What a great thing for our community. A Battle of the Bay final is incredibly special. It'd be like USC and UCLA for a national championship. This is a big deal, and it's pretty cool."
Getting past Loyola (24-3) was a big deal, too.
This was the sixth meeting between CdM and Loyola in a semifinal or championship match in five seasons. The Sea Kings swept Loyola in last year's section final, avenging a loss in the 2016 final, then fell in the CIF Southern California Regional Division I final. The Cubs' season will continue in this year's regional tournament.
Loyola gave a better account of itself than on May 3, when CdM closed out the regular season with a 25-19, 25-21, 25-17 win at home. But CdM maintained a lead that fluctuated between one and four points through the first two sets and a good part of the third.
Kobrine, bound for UCLA, delivered 14 kills and made seven digs, and Browning, a USC signee, added nine kills. UC Santa Barbara-bound middle blocker Brandon Hicks pitched in with seven kills. Tyler Flood, bound for New York University, had five kills and four block assists, and Paragas, a setter headed to UCSB, totaled 31 assists.
"Patrick being able to run our offense and keeping everyone involved [was pivotal]," Conti said. "He's got a luxury to work with five really good attackers, and he does a really good job of spreading the ball around and keeping the other side guessing from a defensive standpoint. He's very good about reading what the block is doing an putting our hitters in very good positions where they can put the ball away."
Loyola sophomore Luke Turner had 14 kills. Pepperdine-bound libero Ryan Grafton made 13 digs for the Cubs, who held three third-set leads, twice by two points, and were close until CdM scored six of the final seven points to pull away.
Although his team was seeded higher, Loyola coach Michael Boehle wasn't surprised by the outcome.
"You've got an all-star team playing against guys who are kind of inexperienced," he said. "We fought, and we had our opportunities and we didn't capitalize on them, so that's the difference between an experienced team and one that's trying to figure itself out. It's tough to beat a team like that that's been playing together for a long time."