LONG BEACH — Coaches are known for their idiosyncrasies, but Orange Coast College men's volleyball head man Travis Turner sounded a bit confused when asked about his team's strong start against Grossmont in the semifinals of the California Community College Athletic Assn. state championship on Thursday.
"When we were up, 17-6, I was worried," said Turner, whose youthful team has been known to squander early success. "Because I thought that [the Pirates] aren't very mature, so a lead is sometimes tough for them to play with. But we battled back."
OCC's own good fortune, it could then be argued, served as more of a challenge than Grossmont, which succumbed, 25-15, 25-23, 27-25, at Long Beach City College.
The No. 2-seeded Pirates (15-4) extended their winning streak to 11 matches while advancing to Saturday's 7 p.m. state final against No. 1-seeded Long Beach City.
The Pacific Coast Conference champions have also swept their last five opponents and needed just three games to claim eight of their last nine wins.
Their last loss was March 2, a four-game contest against Irvine Valley. And Long Beach, champion of the Western State Conference, thumped the Pirates in three games in their only meeting this season on Feb. 24.
Sophomore outside hitter Chris Van Vuuren had 17 kills and two aces to help lead the way against Grossmont.
Freshman opposite Dillon Emery, the state leader in kills, was also big, contributing 12 kills and three aces.
"Especially [during a 4-4 start this season] we were a very immature team that was nowhere near the competitive level we are at right now," Emery said. "So, in that sense we have matured a lot and I think that's what is kind of playing out here."
Sophomore setter Michael Ensign, a Corona del Mar High product, had 41 assists, two solo blocks and one block assist for the winners.
Turner credited the play of freshman middle blockers Austin Bagby (four kills in five swings for a .600 hitting percentage, as well as one ace and one block assist) and Sam Jergens (four kills in seven swings for a .429 clip, with one ace), while sophomore libero Victor Schaefer posted a match-high seven digs.
Bagby played at Newport Harbor High.
John Christian, a freshman, came off the bench to chip in seven kills and his .357 hitting percentage was the best for any OCC hitter not operating in the middle.
After dominating the first game, OCC faced a 6-1 deficit in Game 2. But the Pirates pulled even at 9-9, took a 10-9 advantage and led the rest of the game.
In the final set, OCC opened leads of 4-1, 12-8 and 14-10, but found itself behind, 20-19, 22-20 and 23-21.
A Grossmont service error, however, pulled OCC within 23-22 and put Emery on the service line. Emery, who had been struggling with his serve of late, capped an impressive performance in that department to help OCC regain control. Two booming jump serves by Emery led to poor passes and two easy kills for Christian, then Bagby, the latter on an overpass.
"Finally," Turner said of Emery's serving prowess. "He had been struggling the last few matches, but we got him going tonight."
OCC, which defeated Grossmont (11-8) three times this season, had seven aces and only eight errors. The Griffins managed just two aces to go with their seven missed serves.
The Pirates will be making their 14th appearance in the state final on Saturday. The last of their five titles came in 1994 and they have lost in the finals six times since, including 2010 and 2008.
Sophomore Shalimar Buchanan led the Griffins (11-8) with nine kills and posted a .353 hitting percentage.
Jacob Haar, a sophomore middle, had eight kills and a .500 hitting percentage for the Griffins.