LONG BEACH — Five match points saved, and the home crowd at Long Beach City College got very concerned.
The Orange Coast College men's volleyball team came so close to forcing a deciding fifth set Saturday night in the California Community College Athletic Assn. men's volleyball state championship match. A 24-19 fourth-set deficit suddenly became 24-24, and the Pirates were pumped.
Long Beach, the No. 1-ranked team in the state poll all season, did not panic. An OCC shot wide gave the Vikings their sixth match point, and they capitalized.
Long Beach sophomore Aniefre Etim-Thomas, the young man on fire to start the match, came up with his ninth and biggest block. Pandemonium ensued.
Second-seeded OCC had just been denied once again in a state championship match as top-seeded LBCC earned the title in four hard-fought sets, 25-22, 23-25, 25-22, 26-24.
Orange Coast (15-5), the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference champion and the hottest team in the state coming into the match, picked a brutal time for its 11-match winning streak to come to a sudden end. The Pirates came up a match short in their bid for the program's sixth state title, and first since 1994.
"It's tough for the kids," OCC Coach Travis Turner said. "You know, I think if we had a few more weeks in the season, we probably would have won that match. But we didn't."
Freshman opposite Dillon Emery and sophomore outside Chris Van Vuuren each earned all-tournament team honors for OCC. Emery, the state leader in kills, added a match-high 30 of them on Saturday night.
"He was a frickin' horse," Turner said of Emery. "He was an absolute horse. He almost got us there. All year long, though, these guys have been a team. These guys have worked harder than any team I've ever had. They just busted their [behinds] all year. They did everything they could, to get to where we are today. I think these guys have learned a lot about life and became men this year, and that's more important than winning this match."
Emery's fellow Fountain Valley High alumnus, Van Vuuren, added 10 kills, but LBCC limited him to a -.030 hitting percentage.
Long Beach co-coach Matt Silva said his Vikings (17-2), the Western State Conference champions, tried to limit Emery and Van Vuuren. Silva found offense in the first set from his 6-foot-3 middle blocker Etim-Thomas, who had six kills on six attacks in the set and added two blocks and a service ace as LBCC grabbed the early lead.
OCC battled back in the second set, but Long Beach took an 18-10 lead in the third set after successive blocks from Etim-Thomas and held on.
For the match, Etim-Thomas, an all-tournament team selection, had 11 kills, a .846 hitting percentage, two solo blocks and seven block assists.
"It seemed like they were shooting for Max [Wechsung] and Jo'Lon [Clark] on the right side," Silva said. "They did a good job doing that, but it freed up 'Fre.' I think that was a big deal. I actually wanted us to go to him a little longer. I had to kind of get on our setters to make sure he was getting back in the game."
Sophomore outside Rob McLean, who led LBCC with 15 kills, was the tournament MVP, and Long Beach also had setter/opposite Wechsung (25 assists and nine kills) on the all-tournament team.
Sophomore setter Michael Ensign dished out 46 assists and had six digs for OCC, which received three block assists each from Van Vuuren and Sam Jergens (four kills). Austin Bagby had five kills and John Christian added four kills for the Pirates, who have made the state final four in all six years of Turner's tenure but are still searching for their first state title.
"That doesn't matter to me," said Turner, whose Pirates fell to Moorpark in the 2010 state final and Irvine Valley in the 2008 title match. "It's [the players'] first time, so that's what I'm about. Obviously, I want to win one, but it's their first time. This isn't about me."
Saturday's match was much closer than when Long Beach swept OCC on Feb. 24. Turner said his team's ball control has improved.
But OCC was out-hit in every set Saturday night. LBCC hit .336 for the match, compared to just .230 for the Pirates. Each team had two solo blocks, but Long Beach had eight block assists compared to just two for the Pirates.
Etim-Thomas definitely won it on the last point of the match, ending it suddenly on a cross-court attempt from Emery.
"Dillon was hitting angle the whole [match]," Etim-Thomas said. "I just dropped my right hand and got the block. It was knowing his tendencies."
The tendency for the Vikings, who won their eighth state title and fourth since 2004, has been winning championships.
"Both of us are very offensive teams," Silva said. "They have strong guys and we have strong guys. I just think we won the battle at the net."
Before the match it was announced OCC alumnus Brian Lewis (volleyball) was one of three that will be inducted into the CCCAA Hall of Fame.