LOS ANGELES — One point is all Corona del Mar High needed to keep its CIF Southern Section Division 1 title hopes alive. One point and the Sea Kings reach the finale in the premier boys' volleyball division.
That point never came for No. 2-seeded CdM on Wednesday.
Twice the Sea Kings had match point. Twice they failed to close things out at Los Angeles Loyola, enabling the No. 3 Cubs to rally for a 25-17, 20-25, 18-25, 25-23, 16-14 semifinal win in front a raucous crowd.
Right after Matt Reilly recorded his second straight kill, the final one to clinch the match for the Cubs, the home fans stormed the court. The Sea Kings looked on in disbelief. They came so close to moving on to their first championship match in the top division in 14 years.
The Cubs stood in the Sea Kings' way again, just as they managed to do four years ago, when they prevailed as the No. 3 seed at No. 2 CdM. The Sea Kings cannot seem to beat Loyola in the postseason, and they have never won at Loyola in four tries under CdM Coach Steve Conti.
"It's a tough loss," Conti said. "I don't know if it's so much that we lost it. [The Cubs] dug some balls at the end. There [were] a couple of crazy rallies at the end. I love this team, so it's certainly hard to see us come so far from where we were at the beginning and get so close to being able to get to that championship match, and just fall a little bit short.
"I've been in so many of these battles, but [this semifinal] certainly ranks up there. What an unbelievable high school volleyball match it was."
Conti had CdM (27-3) on the cusp of making its 13th sectional finals appearance. Ten have come under Conti, who in his 19th season in charge of CdM had the program on a roll.
Corona del Mar went into Loyola having ripped off 17 consecutive wins. Before Loyola topped the Sea Kings, only one other team had stopped CdM this year. Loyola (24-3) earned the right to face that team, No. 1 Huntington Beach, at Cerritos College on Saturday.
The Oilers swept their semifinal at No. 4 Redondo Union, for a chance to defend their CIF Southern Section Division 1 crown. They will see Loyola in the championship for the second time in a row.
No one has figured out how to get past the Oilers, who are perfect through 36 matches this year. The Oilers' winning streak, which dates back to last season, is at 59. The successful stretch is the second best in the history of the section, 10 behind the record set by Laguna Beach from 1981 to '83.
The Sea Kings wanted to be that team to put an end to Huntington Beach's winning ways. They barely missed out on getting another shot.
Ryan Moss, Tommy Brooks, Joey Martino, Brett Schisler and Matt Ctvrtlik tried their best to set up a third meeting with the Oilers. Moss produced four of his 17 kills for CdM in the fifth set, Martino two of his 16 kills, and Brooks two of his 12 kills. Schisler is the one who broke a 9-9 tie in the fifth set with a service ace, and Ctvrtlik's block gave CdM its first two-point lead at 11-9 in the fifth set.
The block was Ctvrtlik's second. The sophomore setter also amassed 52 assists, to go with 11 digs and four kills. His last kill fooled the Cubs and put CdM back ahead by two after a kill by Loyola's Riley Moore.
Hayden Boehle came right back for the Cubs, dropping a winner to make it a one-point deficit. Then the Sea Kings took a 14-12 lead. At match point, with Ctvrtlik serving, he appeared to sneak one in for the win, only to see the red flag go up, signaling the ball out.
A timeout ensued, and soon the Sea Kings began to run out of time. They weren't bound for their first section finals appearance since 2012, when the Sea Kings played in Division 2. Loyola was the team qualifying.
Three weeks after losing in four sets at CdM, ensuring the Sea Kings received the No. 2 seed and Loyola the No. 3 seed, the Cubs are moving on to their third Division 1 finale in as many years. Conti wasn't bitter. He congratulated Loyola Coach Michael Boehle, who in 16 years with the Cubs has five section titles, as many as Conti has won with the boys at CdM.
"Loyola's always been real good, but [the Cubs] always do it with class," said Conti, who now has to wait and see if a semifinal appearance in the toughest division will earn CdM a berth into the CIF Southern California Regional Division II playoffs. "I definitely think we're one of the better teams in Division II, but it's all going to be a numbers game."