Pirates recapture focus

COSTA MESA — The Orange Coast College men's volleyball team won impressively Friday night, sweeping visiting Irvine Valley, 25-23, 25-22, 25-20, in a Pacific Coast Conference match.

But duly humbled by Wednesday's four-game home loss to conference rival Grossmont, OCC Coach Travis Turner expects the Pirates to be anything but impressed.

"We were motivated tonight, which we haven't been since [a Feb. 11 home win over perennial state powerhouse Long Beach]," Turner said. "We kind of thought we were pretty good after that [Long Beach] match and we stopped training and we stopped playing hard. But tonight, I thought it was the same team that played against Long Beach."

Freshman middle blocker McKay Smith, who had six kills and five blocks, including three straight solo stuffs in the third game to turn a 16-15 lead into a four-point cushion, said the Grossmont match helped spur the motivation needed for Friday … and beyond.

"It was a great eye-opener for us," said the 6-foot-6 Smith, a former defensive lineman for the Dana Hills High football team, whose intensity is well-known among the Pirates. "After we beat Long Beach real nice, we kind of just let up, which we can't ever do. [The loss to Grossmont] was a real wake-up call for us. It just kind of let us know that nothing is going to be easy. Everyone is going to come after us every night. We need to work harder and get better at a lot of things. I think we made a step in the right direction tonight."

Sophomore opposite Troy Tomasello led the winners (8-2, 3-1 in conference) with nine kills. Chris Pratt, a freshman middle blocker, had eight and Jeff Patton, a sophomore outside hitter added seven.

Richard De St. Jean, a sophomore middle out of Newport Harbor High, had five kills and six blocks, while sophomore setter James Anderson had 31 assists.

Turner also praised the play of freshman libero Danny Baker, a Corona del Mar High product who had seven digs.

"Liberos don't get enough attention, but he has been super solid all year," Turner said of Baker. "There's no flash there, but I thought he did a great job."

OCC did not trail in the opening game, but rallied from a 7-1 deficit in Game 2. The Pirates pulled even, 11-11, but the Lasers (6-3, 2-1) earned a 15-13 lead. OCC, however, scored six straight points to take the lead and, after IVC pulled even again at 23-23, closed it out with a net violation and a Patton kill.

The Pirates scored six points in the third game on blocks, with Smith, as well as the tandem of De St. Jean and Tomasello thoroughly frustrating Lasers hitters.

"[Assistant coach] Scott Panaro did a good job on some blocking adjustments and I thought we matched up with them pretty well," Turner said.

"We kind of got a feel for what they wanted to do," Smith said of the Pirates' late blocking dominance. "They really like to go to [sophomore outside hitter Brandon Directo]. We made a blocking switch, putting Patton [who is 6-7] on the right side instead of [the 6-1 Anderson] and it turned out to work really well."

OCC trailed only once, at 11-10, in the final set.

Turner also praised the tough serving of Patton, who helped take away a middle attack that IVC used effectively early.

Despite the strong performance, Smith said he will work with the coaches to ensure it does not bring a return of complacency.

"Once again, we can't let up," Smith said. "We need to get right back to work on Monday [at practice] with even more fire to get better."

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