COSTA MESA — A good start had never before been a problem for the Orange Coast College men's volleyball team. So, when the Pirates squandered a six-point lead late in Game 1 against underdog Irvine Valley in the semifinals of the California Community College Athletic Assn. championships, it was as unprecedented as it was troubling.
Sure enough, the Pirates failed to fully recover, falling, 28-26, 25-21, 17-25, 25-21 to end their season.
The loss also halted a nine-match winning streak and made it two years in a row that OCC failed to survive a Final Four at its own gym.
The Pirates (16-3) were attempting to claim their fifth state title, their first since 1994.
Instead, IVC (13-7), which OCC had twice beaten by winning six of seven games during their two conference meetings, will play for its third state crown in five years on Friday. The Lasers, who upset Grossmont in the regular-season finale to deny the Griffins a share of the Pacific Coast Conference title claimed by OCC, will meet the Griffins once again at 7 p.m. at OCC.
IVC, guided by co-coaches Ki Yi, a former OCC assistant, and Tom Pestolesi, whose resume includes coaching stints at Newport Harbor and Estancia high schools, won state titles in 2007 and 2008, the latter coming with a final triumph over Orange Coast.
OCC Coach Travis Turner said the Lasers deserved credit for Wednesday's upset.
But he also said his team was not without blame.
"We were up, 15-9, in the first game and we let up," Turner said. "This team has had an attention-span problem all year and tonight [the Lasers] just exposed it. [IVC] did a great job. I thought [6-foot-6 sophomore opposite] Caleb Brophy had the best match he's played against us in two years. And Chris Reames is a stud at libero."
Brophy had a match-high 16 kills while compiling a .414 hitting percentage. He also had three of the Lasers' seven aces and chipped in one solo block and one block assist.
Reames, a sophomore, had 10 digs to lead the Lasers.
Yi praised Brophy and Reames, but also credited freshman setter Kevin Fiske for the selection behind his match-high 50 assists.
"The distribution of sets between the front row and back row was great," Yi said. "We had a lot of back row kills that we traditionally didn't have the last two times [against OCC]. That made a huge difference for us. Kevin Fiske did a wonderful job of distributing the ball."
OCC mounted something in the third game, when sophomore middle McKay Smith seemed to energize the hosts. Smith had three kills and three block assists, the majority of which came down the stretch of Game 3 to help OCC extend things.
But any momentum OCC had earned in the third game was quickly doused, when IVC scored the first six points of Game 4. The Lasers took a 10-2 lead and were up, 18-12, before OCC scored five straight. But the Pirates got no closer than two points the rest of the way.
Sophomore opposite Troy Tomasello had 15 kills and freshman outside hitter Chris Pratt had 12 to pace the Pirates. But they hit .194 and .208, respectively, as OCC posted a team hitting percentage of .233.
Smith finished with eight kills, as did 6-foot-9 freshman Ryan Thompson, who came off the bench to add a spark in the middle. Smith hit .467 and Thompson finished at a .385 clip.
"But our ball control wasn't good enough for us to get the ball to [the middles] more often," Turner said.
The surprising loss mirrored a mid-season lull for OCC this season, when it went 2-2 after a 5-0 start.
"I think we had too much success early and I didn't do a good job of maintaining intensity early in the season," Turner said.
Mark Metrakos had 10 kills for IVC, which hit .265 as a team.