LA CAÑADA — A near blunder morphed into a banner effort for the Flintridge Prep boys' volleyball team Tuesday afternoon.
The Rebels rallied from a two-game deficit to dispatch upset-minded Prep League rival Pasadena Poly, 19-25, 22-25, 25-19, 25-21, 15-4 to clinch a share of the program's second straight league title.
The victory tied CIF Southern Section Division IV seventh-ranked Flintridge Prep (17-5 overall, 7-1 in league) with Chadwick (18-4, 7-1) atop the league standings.
The teams split the season series, but the Rebels will enter the postseason as the league's top seed after winning a coin toss on Wednesday morning.
Regardless of the flip, the Rebels still accomplished history on Tuesday in winning back-to-back titles for the first time in program history.
“The idea of consecutive league championships was rattling around their brains and we started off a little slow,” Rebels Coach Sean Beattie said. “Not to take anything away from Poly – they played very well – but I think it was when [the Rebels'] backs got pushed against the wall, they came out and fought. That's a really good sign going into the playoffs because you are going to face adversity and you might go down, but you have to find a way to get back up and we did that.”
A feeling of amazement and bewilderment owned by Flintridge Prep early on switched jerseys and belonged to the Panthers (8-12, 2-6) late, as whatever momentum Poly earned after two early victories was snatched away by the Rebels before the deciding fifth game.
Flintridge Prep scored 10 of the game's first 11 points, led by sophomore outside hitter Dante Fregoso, who tallied five of his match-high 30 kills (versus only two hitting errors) in the set.
Fregoso eventually put the Rebels up double-digits, 12-2, on the second of consecutive kills before a Panthers' service error secured the game, 15-4, and the match, 3-2.
“I just think we came out really slow in the first two games and were looking toward the playoffs and past Poly,” said Fregoso, who's connected on 66 kills the last two matches. “It took us all the way down to the third set to start playing our game. I guess we just told ourselves we weren't going to lose.”
Flintridge Prep's rally began in the third game as the Rebels jumped out to a 14-8 advantage before eventually having their lead sliced to 21-19 on a kill from Poly's Brian Ward through the dig try of Fregoso.
With Poly setting up the block against Fregoso, the Rebels instead turned to senior middle blocker Trip Westmoreland (11 kills and five blocks), who lobbed a soft kill past two hard-charging defenders.
The point set off a 4-0 run that ended with a Westmoreland game-clinching spike.
“We just calmed down after the first two games and realized we could still win and that we were still the better team,” the Chapman University-bound Westmoreland said. “Dante was pretty good. [Freshman opposite] Jake Althouse came though big, [setter] Aldridge Kim was on, Zack Picker was great, we just had some great efforts.”
Althouse tallied a season-high six blocks, while Kim totaled 54 assists, Picker collected 19 digs and Kyle Law added 11 kills.
In the fourth game, the Rebels appeared in cruise control as they rolled to a 16-7 lead.
Yet, Poly rallied behind seven kills from junior outside hitter Adam Stanford-Moore, who led his side with 23 kills, and pulled within 17-15.
Just as the Panthers were within striking distance, Flintridge Prep countered with a 6-1 run and pushed away en route to the win.
“We passed really well early and then Prep made some adjustments,” Poly Coach Jack Prater said. “We have three strong hitters on this team and when we're able to pass, I like our chances. You have to credit Prep for disrupting our passing and working our defense. They earned this win.”
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.