IRVINE ? It may have been Matt Webber's birthday on Saturday, but he was the one in a giving mood.
The 6-foot-5 junior outside hitter gave the UC Irvine men's volleyball team a match-high 19 kills on his 21st birthday. In the process, he helped the Anteaters rally to defeat Long Beach State, 28-30, 30-21, 34-32, 30-26, in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match.
Webber, UC Irvine's leader in kills with 441, helped the Anteaters (23-2, 16-2 in conference) down the 49ers in four games for the second time this season. UCI, which has won 17 matches in a row, leads the conference with four regular season matches left.
Webber played inspired volleyball and came up with big kills in key situations. In the tide-turning third game, Webber's kill gave the Anteaters a 33-32 lead. Senior outside hitter Paul Spittle and junior middle blocker David Smith combined on a block for the game-winning point.
In game four, Webber's kill tied the score, 19-19, and UC Irvine never trailed again.
"I had a little more gas in my tank tonight," Webber said. "In three years, I haven't won a match on my birthday. It was great to finally win on my birthday and it made it more sweet coming against The Beach."
Webber's standout performance, combined with UC Irvine's stellar game at the net, were keys in the victory. The Anteaters tallied 35 block assists on the night compared to 16 for the 49ers. Junior middle blocker David Smith recorded 13 block assists, which tied a school record previously shared by John Arata (1995), Chris Harger (1996) and Brendan Watumull (2002).
"That was our best blocking night of the year," UC Irvine Coach John Speraw said. "That was big for us."
After dropping the first game, UC Irvine's serving and passing game improved and the team's offense ran more smoothly. A block by Smith gave the Anteaters an 18-12 lead.
Game three could have gone either way, but UC Irvine showed its knack for coming up big in the clutch. The Anteaters trailed 26-22 when Webber came up with a kill and an ace to help tie the score, 26-26. Aaron Harrell's kill off a short set by Brian Thornton broke a 29-29 tie. The score was tied eight times from 26-26 on, before Webber's kill and Spittle and Smith's block.
The Anteaters carried the momentum from the game-three win into the fourth game, taking a 4-1 lead when White and Spittle combined for another block.
But the 49ers (17-9, 10-8), led by Duncan Budinger's team-high 18 kills, charged back and held their last lead at 19-18 on a block by Tyler Hildebrand (53 assists). The Anteaters regained the lead for good when Long Beach's Paul Lotman (13 kills) and Budinger hit the ball long. UC Irvine followed that up with block assists by Smith and Spittle on Budinger's kill attempt to give the Anteaters a 24-21 lead.
Jayson Jablonsky (14 kills) closed the match with a kill off a pass from Thornton (48 assists), as UC Irvine was able to win another tight match.
"This team has stayed steady and calm in pressure situations all year," Speraw said. "We don't get flustered easy."dpt-volley02.IMGGraphicInfo0L1PIBBM200604020L1PIBBMNo Captiondpt.02-vb-uci-csulb-1-BPhotoInfo7T1PIAT120060402ix2u3yknMARK DUSTIN / DAILY PILOT(LA)UCI's Matt Webber, right, hits past the block of Long Beach State's Tyler Hildebrand, left, during the first game of Saturday night's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match at Crawford Court. The Anteaters, ranked No. 1 in the nation, defeated the 49ers in four games, 28-30, 30-21, 34-32, 30-26. dpt.02-vb-uci-csulb-2-BPhotoInfo7T1PIB9N20060402ix2u4hknMARK DUSTIN / DAILY PILOT(LA)UCI's Jayson Jablonsky passes the ball during the first game of Saturday night's match against Long Beach State at Crawford Court. Jablonsky finished with 14 kills in the four-game victory.