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Best run in years ends for St. Francis volleyball

LA CAÑADA — Though the match ended in a way different than the St. Francis High boys' volleyball team had envisioned, there was little sadness for a squad that saw its best run in years just end.

A Golden Knights team that finished with a 19-15 record, a third-place finish in the rugged Mission League and its first playoff appearance since 2012 was appreciative of such accolades after Golden League champion Quartz Hill eliminated it in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs, 25-23, 25-13, 25-17, on Thursday.

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"For so many years when we were trapped in Division I, we just didn't have an opportunity for games like this," St. Francis coach Mark Frazee said. "With the CIF restructuring of the playoffs, we still play in a Division I league, but we have a chance to play in Division II in the playoffs. To have a much better chance to make the playoffs and win – that was rewarding."

St. Francis began the postseason with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory at San Gabriel on Tuesday and was poised for the program's first quarterfinal appearance in 14 years.

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That plan, however, was derailed by the hard-hitting Rebels (23-3-2) and outside hitter Nathan Merran. The junior finished with a match-high 22 kills and two aces and tallied two more kills than the entire Golden Knights team.

St. Francis countered with a team-high seven kills from Gus Maltzan, 18 assists and two blocks from Joey Thompson and nine digs from Coby Escolano.

The Golden Knights' best opportunity at victory came in the first set and was fueled by erratic play from the Rebels.

Quartz Hill totaled seven service errors along with seven additional attacking and defensive errors, which always kept St. Francis close.

The Rebels led, 21-19, but St. Francis rallied with back-to-back kills from Maltzan to pull even at 21.

The squads remained tied at 22 before a Golden Knights' service error gave the Rebels a lead they never relinquished. Merran closed out a 25-23 victory was his 10th kill for the first set.

"I think it's a different game if we win [the first set]," Thompson said. "It would have been great to win and take momentum onto the next set and maybe win that one, too."

In the third set, the match was tied at 13 and the Golden Knights still remained within striking distance, down 18-15 after a Rebels' service error.

Rather that ride the hot hand of Merran, Quartz Hill spread around its offense and closed with a 7-2 spurt to wrap up a victory, 25-17, and a 3-0 sweep.

The only set in which St. Francis was not competitive was the second.

Quartz Hill secured 17 of the game's first 25 points and eventually closed out a dominant 25-13 triumph on an ace from Aaron Taflinger.

"Quartz Hill had a big hitter and they knew how to place the ball to him and he knew how to finish," St. Francis' David Johnson said. "I think we could have put up a bigger block against him, but he was good."

Even with the loss, there was no shame.

"I told every guy to walk out of here with your head held high," Frazee said. "We had a great season."

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