PASADENA — A distinct difference between Providence High and Pasadena Poly was evident prior to teams' CIF Southern Section Division V boys' volleyball quarterfinal playoff match Saturday.
The Panthers boast six players who are 6-feet-2 or taller, including 6-4 junior outside hitter Michael Saeta, who is headed to Stanford. In contrast, the Pioneers took the floor with just one player over 6-2.
Although No. 4 Providence was in all three of its games late, it had no answer for Saeta, and as a result, suffered a 25-21, 26-24, 25-22 defeat against the fifth-seeded Panthers at Pasadena Poly.
It was the first time the Pioneers (16-7) — the runner-up in the Liberty League — advanced to the quarterfinals since 2007. Coincidently, the Pioneers fell in the semifinals that year to Viewpoint, which was coached by Mike Talamantes, who now coaches Pasadena Poly.
Providence coach Josh Eggleston said the height differential between his team and Pasadena Poly (16-7) — No. 2 from the Prep League — was distinctive.
"We brought a gymnastics team to a volleyball game," Eggleston said. "That's why we don't put our heights on our [roster].
"But we knew they were going to be a lot biggest than we are, and we were hoping that we would be able to deal with that."
Eggleston also realized that his team would have its hands full with Saeta. But try as they might, the left-hander was almost unstoppable. He ended with a match-high 27 kills, and often came up with big points when the Panthers needed them.
"We spent almost all of our practice Friday working on ways to stop him," Eggleston said. "Hey, but he's a very good player…he's headed to Stanford."
Providence was led by Kris Galvez, who had eight kills. Teammate Phil Harvey added six kills.
Although his team suffered a sweep, Eggleston said he believed the Pioneers could have won the contest.
"That's the frustrating part," he said. "This is definitely a game that we think we could have won. We did have some ball-control problems, and that hurt us. I think if we played [Pasadena Poly] tomorrow we would win it."
The Pioneers never led in the opening game, but clawed their way back from a six-point deficit to get within one of the lead, 22-21, on a block from Providence's Jackson Saldana. However, the Panthers responded to the challenge by winning the game's final three points.
After being down again in the second game, Providence fought its way back to grab a 12-11 lead. But again Pasadena Poly rallied and took back control of the game at 14-13.
Despite trailing late in the second, the Pioneers never let the lead get too out of hand. As a result, they put on a rally of their own to tie the score at 24 on a Panthers hitting error. But Pasadena Poly was able to put the game away following a Providence net violation and a kill from Saeta.
Providence held its latest lead of the match deep into the third game, 18-17, following a Chester Bosworth kill. But the Panthers regained the lead at 19-18 and maintained the one-point advantage, 23-22. The Pioneers just couldn't erase the advantage and Pasadena Poly was able to complete the sweep.
"I told the kids to hold their heads up, and they had nothing to be ashamed of," Eggleston said. "They put together a very good season, and they should be proud of that."