TORRANCE — At match-point, with a spot in the CIF Southern Section Division III championship on the line, Robby Rutecki and Lucas Yanez rose up for the biggest play of their volleyball careers at Burroughs High.
Down six points in game four of Tuesday night’s semifinal match, host South Torrance High set up Ross Madenwald for a kill up close at the net.
Rutecki, a junior middle blocker, and Yanez, a senior outside hitter, anticipated the strike, jointly leaping in the air, extending both of their arms and sending the ball back unreturnable, just over the net.
The final point by top-seeded Burroughs put an end to a stalwart match the Indians grinded out, 22-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-18.
Shortly after the match, the Burroughs players locked arms and danced in celebration inside South Torrance’s gym, putting up their fingers, signaling No. 1.
“For our guys,” Burroughs Coach Joel Brinton said, “it’s just the heart.”
“The game was on the line and it just felt like that magical point to end it,” Rutecki said of the closing play. “We both got a piece of it. I think it’s the best block I ever had.”
Yanez agreed with his teammate.
“I got my right hand on it,” Yanez said. “It just felt like practice. We moved over to block it and just put our hands up.”
Brinton eagerly watched from the sideline as Burroughs (33-3) closed out the match in dramatic fashion.
“I knew once [South Torrance] set back and took the approach, I knew Lucas and Robby were going to get the ball,” he said.
With the win, the Indians advanced to play Valley Christian at 2 p.m. Saturday at Cypress College with the CIF championship on the line. Burroughs has never won a CIF team title in any sport in the 62-year history of the school.
The two schools have played each other this season. The Indians defeated the Crusaders — the division’s No. 2 seed — 25-21, 25-17, in a tournament match earlier in the season.
“It feels amazing to go to the finals and make history for the volleyball team,” Rutecki said.
Yanez finished with a game-high 20 kills, 16 digs and three blocks.
“No matter where the ball was, [Yanez] was the one chasing after it and finding a way to get it up,” Brinton said.
Tyler Yanez, a senior setter, had 44 assists and four digs and Rutecki recorded 10 kills, three blocks and two digs.
The score was tied 25 times in the contest and there were five lead changes throughout the match.
“We got hit,” Rutecki said. “They got hit. Whoever could bounce back the best would win.”
South Torrance (26-9) edged out a win in the first game when a kill attempt from Yanez sailed just out of bounds down the left sideline.
“Without trying to sound cocky, it’s been a while since we’ve been challenged like that and I think they were a little bit taken aback by that first game,” Brinton said. “They just needed a wake up call.”
On game-point in game two, Madenwald served the ball into the net, helping Burroughs even the match, 1-1.
In game three, the Spartans went up, 12-6, but the Indians battled back with a 9-3 run to even the score.
Nursing a 23-20 lead, middle blocker Ike Nwachie delivered a timely play, blocking South Torrance’s Kenichi Hackman, right at the middle of the net.
“It started with the block and it fueled everybody else,” Brinton said. “It could’ve very well been the turning point in the match.”
Lucas Yanez added: “We were getting on rolls. They couldn’t get over the net. They were making errors. Just having a big play like that...his momentum and the intensity after that block, for a team, that’s pretty big.”
Burroughs earned itself another game-point situation, and this time Lucas Yanez delivered the game-winning kill off an assist from Tyler Yanez.
Nwachie finished with nine kills and two blocks.
The two teams battled to a 15-15 tie in game four, but Burroughs never relinquished the lead from there.