LA CAÑADA — Forced to rally for most of the evening, the Flintridge Prep boys’ volleyball team was hoping to push its CIF Southern Section Division IV second-round playoff match versus visiting Damien to a deciding fifth game.
Unfortunately for the young Rebels, they fell just short of reaching a final game, instead going down in a climactic fourth set in what was a 25-22, 25-22, 24-26, 26-24 win for the Spartans on Thursday evening.
With the defeat, Prep League co-champion Flintridge Prep capped the season with an 18-6 record, while 10th-ranked Damien (22-6-1), in only its fourth season ever playing volleyball, advanced to the program’s first-ever quarterfinal appearance on Saturday.
“How can I be disappointed with my team’s effort?” questioned Rebels Coach Sean Beattie. “I would be a horrible coach. I was disappointed with the way it ended for sure and I was disappointed with a few of the mistakes, but the guys gave everything out there. You just have to tip your cap.”
Flintridge Prep appeared finished in the fourth game after a centerline violation gave the Spartans a 21-18 advantage.
Yet, the Rebels rebounded with a 6-2 spurt capped on an attacking error from Damien, which put Flintridge Prep at game point, 24-23.
Damien fought back with a kill from Chris Mercado (eight kills) to tie and then reached match-point on a spike from Christian Hernandez through a double-block on the right side.
On the next possession, Spartans middle blocker Eric Leggio (12 kills) connected on a match-winning kill that was just dug a foot out of bounds to secure the victory.
“What can you say about that match, it was wild,” Damien Coach Randy Bohlmann said. “We knew Flintridge Prep was an excellent team and that it was going to take a strong game from us to win. I thought we had them a couple of times and they kept fighting back.”
The Rebels were on the road to being swept in the third game, at one time trailing, 17-12, and even down, 22-19, before bouncing back.
Rebels sophomore outside hitter Dante Fregoso (team-high 23 kills) connected on two kills and senior middle blocker Trip Westmoreland (five kills and four blocks) also added a spike as the Rebels countered with a 4-1 run and pulled even at 23 on a Spartans’ hitting error.
Two points later, with the game tied at 24, Damien gave away the lead on a service error that preceded a game-winning attacking error that clinched Flintridge Prep a 26-24 win.
“I think we were just two pretty even teams,” Westmoreland said. “We made little mistakes that hurt us, but Damien might have been one of the best teams we played all season. I was proud of how we played and fought until the end.”
Flintridge Prep only briefly led in the first game, but was tied with Damien at 21 after a Spartans’ defensive error.
Damien pushed backed with consecutive kills to lead by two and eventually win, 25-22.
The Rebels lost the second game by the identical score even though their was a completely different ebb and flow.
Flintridge Prep trailed, 20-13, but battled back to within 23-21 on an impressive stuff from junior middle blocker Tyler Dill (four blocks) of Leggio.
However, the rally fell short as the Spartans scored two of the next three points for the win.
Kyle Law added six kills for Flintridge Prep, while setter Aldridge Kim tallied 35 assists. Damien’s John Prata added 10 kills and was one of five Spartans to boast seven or more kills.
“We just had some tough starts and we had to keep coming back over and over,” Fregoso said. “We kept on rallying and rallying and I thought we were going to get to that fifth game. We just came up a little short.”
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.