Capistrano Valley's status as Orange County's top-ranked volleyball team came down to a comeback Tuesday night, one that left both the Cougars and Esperanza a little stunned.
Capistrano Valley rallied from scores of 10-0 and 13-5 in the fourth game to beat second-ranked Esperanza, 13-15, 15-4, 15-10, 19-17, in a nonleague match at Esperanza.
Senior outside hitter Aaron Garcia, playing with a strained lower back, had 12 of his team-high 24 kills in the fourth game, and senior middle blocker Eric Seiffert added seven of his 18 kills for Capistrano Valley (3-0).
Esperanza, coming off its first Division I title at the Orange County Championships last weekend, dropped to 3-1.
"I didn't think we had anything to gain in this match," Capistrano Valley Coach Ken Goldstone said. "We came in ranked No. 1. It was at Esperanza. We are Division I and Esperanza is Division II (in the Southern Section). All that scared me."
It was even scarier when the Cougars fell behind early in the fourth game.
The match appeared to be headed for a fifth and deciding game when Esperanza, sparked by setter Chris Pitzak's jump serving, scored nine consecutive points before Capistrano Valley got a sideout.
Esperanza middle blocker Paul Nihipali, who finished with a match-high 29 kills, dominated the run with four kills and two blocks. A kill by Brad Goldston, who finished with 18 kills, pushed the lead to 10-0. And Esperanza seemed in control.
But Capistrano Valley began chipping away at the deficit, cutting the score to 13-5, then 13-9, then 13-12.
The Cougars fought off game point at 14-12 and tied it, 14-14, on kills by Seiffert and Evan Alexander. Steve Thornton blocked Nihipali to give the Cougars a 15-14 lead, but Esperanza fought off four match points to tie it, 15-15.
Capistrano Valley battled back from 16-15 and 17-16 before a cross-court kill by Garcia tied it, 17-17.
A bad pass by Esperanza gave Capistrano Valley an 18-17 lead, and Seiffert blocked Nihipali for match point.
Nihipali and Seiffert played well in a showdown of two of the county's top middle blockers. Although Nihipali had the better statistics, Seiffert was strong throughout the final three games and was an effective complement to Garcia's powerful outside hitting.
"You can't stop (Nihipali)," Goldstone said. "He's a great player--one of the best high school players I've seen. You have to stop everyone else, and that's what we tried to do."
Setter Eric McKelvie finished with 61 assists for Capistrano Valley, which played without starting outside hitter Steve Airey, who suffered a left knee sprain in practice last week. Airey underwent an MRI examination, and Goldstone said he expects to know the results by Thursday.