Laguna now one win away

The Breakers are back for seconds.

A year after winning a CIF Southern Section championship, the Laguna Beach boys' volleyball team will play for another title after coming back from a game down Tuesday to defeat visiting Beckman, 26-28, 25-22, 25-19, 25-22, in a Division 2 semifinal match. The win sends the second-ranked Breakers to Saturday's Division 2 final at 4 p.m. at Cypress College against No. 1-ranked Corona del Mar.

The Sea Kings defeated Trabuco Hills, 3-0, in Tuesday's other semifinal match-up.

"We're excited to be going back," Laguna Coach Lance Stewart said after his Breakers fended off a stiff challenge from Beckman, the third-place team behind Corona del Mar and Irvine in the Pacific Coast League. "This was a tough one, but we played great.

"My definition of great play is doing what you are capable of doing over and over, until you reach your goal. We did that tonight. We passed the ball well and made some really great digs in those final few games."

Outside hitter Robbie McKnight played a stellar game for Laguna. The senior delivered big kills that prevented Beckman from taking the lead in the third and fourth games.

McKnight registered 41 kills.

"Robbie was unbelievable tonight," Stewart said. "I also thought Alek Burk played great. He passed at about a 2.8 clip and he was nails. Our outside hitters had kills when we needed them and our middles, although they didn't have a lot of kills, really played big. It was a great team win."

Laguna held an 11-6 lead in the first game and was still in front, 17-14, on a McKnight kill. But Beckman rallied, creating a 17-17 tie on a back-row kill from UCLA-bound Chris Long, who also played spectacularly. Laguna was at set point three times in the game but the Patriots got a 28-26 win when the Breakers mishandled a ball at the net.

"We were a little bit out of sync in that first game," Stewart said. "We were out of position and as a result, some of our digs were just out of reach. That No. 9 (Long) is a fabulous athlete."

Burk gave the Breakers a shot of adrenaline in the second game by serving up three straight aces to put his team on top, 6-2. The lead grew to seven twice, the last time at 14-7 on a kill down the middle by senior middle blocker Colin Ceithaml. But just as it had in the first game, back came Beckman. The Patriots drew to within 16-15 on a kill by Craig Lanning and again were down one, 22-21, on a hit by Matt Joanis. Long, however, was long on his ensuing serve which allowed Laguna to go up by two and the Breakers eventually scored a 25-22 win on a kill from the left-side by junior outside hitter Austin Hillemann.

Laguna led throughout the third game as well and again twice held leads of seven points the last coming at 241-7 when McKnight scored on a kill off a double block attempt at the net by the Patriots. McKnight ended the game with another kill.

The Breakers never trailed after taking a 5-4 lead in the fourth game when sophomore junior middle blocker Maxx McCarter scored on a kill off a set by sophomore Jack Winn. Another set by Winn led to a kill from McKnight that put Laguna in front, 21-15. Beckman made a late charge and pulled to within 23-22 on a kill by Long. But McKnight sewed up the victory for Laguna with a kill that rocketed off the shoulder of the Patriots' Shawn Cho before he sent a tap back off a diving Cho for match point.

Burk and Hillemann each finished with seven kills and McCarter had four hills. Winn recorded 52 assists.

On Saturday, Laguna and Corona del Mar will meet in a CIF title game for the first time.

"It's so awesome to be going back," said McKnight who also played a key role last year during Laguna's championship season. "We played so consistently tonight and that was so great to see. That team (Beckman) was tough and they played well. We're stoked for Saturday."

The Breakers made their 31st all-time appearance in the quarterfinal round Saturday and rallied from a one-game deficit to defeat host Irvine, 23-25, 25-17, 25-18, 25-14. McKnight and Hillemann had 26 and 14 kills, respectively, Burk had 11 digs and Winn 47 assists.

Laguna began the playoffs May 12 and took care of visiting Arroyo Grande in a second-round game winning in a 25-14, 28-26, 25-11 sweep. McKnight recorded 27 kills, Burk nine digs and Winn 35 assists.

Laguna and CdM will meet for the eighth time in postseason play Saturday, but the first time since a quarterfinal meeting in 1997.

The Breakers and Sea Kings have dominated the top two spots in the Division 2 poll since the season began. The Breakers started out as the top-ranked team but the Sea Kings took over that spot in late-March and have resided their since.

CdM twice has defeated Laguna this year. At the Orange County Championships tournament at Edison in March, the Sea Kings came out on top, 29-27, 25-27, 15-8. In a nonleague match a few days later on March 22, they beat the Breakers, 25-18, 26-24, 25-17.

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