Boys' volleyball: Oilers advance to face Loyola in final

And the sweep goes on.

When Huntington Beach fell behind by six points late in the first set of Wednesday's CIF Southern Section Division 1 boys' volleyball semifinal match with Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, the Oilers were in danger of having their straight-sets win streak snapped.

Not only that, but a first set loss to the top-ranked Mustangs would force the No. 4-seeded Oilers to play catch-up the remainder of the match.

Danger averted.

Huntington regrouped after falling behind, 19-13, in that first set, and stormed back with an incredible rally that produced an eventual, 25-23 win. The comeback ignited a spark under the Oilers, who never looked back.

It was a comeback that seemed to stun Mira Costa, and the Mustangs never recovered. They led from time to time in the final two sets, but it was Huntington that had the finishing touch both sets.

Backed by a strong home crowd, Huntington rose to the occasion and knocked off the defending champion Mustangs, 25-23, 29-27, 25-23. The triumph catapulted the Oilers (30-2), who are on a 20-match win streak, on to Saturday's Division 1 final. They will face No. 2-seed Loyola at 7:30 p.m. at Santiago Canyon College in Orange.

The Cubs on Wednesday survived No. 3-seed San Clemente, 30-28, 22-25, 28-26, 35-33, in the other intense Division 1 semifinal.

It will be Huntington's first appearance in a Southern Section final since 1994, and the program's fourth title game appearance, overall.

Huntington previously played for a CIF title in three consecutive seasons (1992-94).

"We've been working four years for this," said 6-foot-6 senior opposite Zach Gates, who, along with sophomore outside hitter TJ Deface, had 14 kills for the Oilers. "This is an incredible win, and we are so stoked for Saturday. If we play our game, we win."

"This was a gritty effort by our team," Huntington Coach Craig Pazanti said. "To be down 19-13 in the first set, and come back and win, really gave our guys the confidence to push through tonight."

Huntington was up, 8-7, in the first set when Mira Costa (32-3) went on an 8-1 tear, to open up a 15-9 lead. A kill by middle blocker Scott Stephanoff, one of six senior starters for Mira Costa, gave the Mustangs their biggest lead (19-13) in the set.

"I just told them not to give up," Pazanti said, referring to a time-out pep talk he gave his squad after it got down six points. "We knew we were going to be in a fight, it was time to respond, and they did.

"I give a huge amount of the credit to Matt Butler. He calmed everyone down, and was a great leader tonight. He has come a long way over the past four years."

Huntington scored the next four points, and drew to within 19-17 on a shared block at the next by senior middle blocker Andrew TenBrink (nine kills, five blocks) and junior outside hitter Brenden Sander (eight kills, six blocks). The Oilers finally caught the Mustangs at 22-22 on a kill by DeFalco, and went in front, 23-22, when Riley Mallon, an outside hitter for the Mustangs, sent a shot long and out of bounds.

Huntington ended the set on a 12-4 run, capped when a DeFalco shot deflected off a Mira Costa player and sailed out of bounds.

The Oilers were up, 1-0.

"We came out a little sluggish but once we settled down, we passed well," Sander said. "That opened up our offense, and we got into a groove from there."

The second set had plenty of drama to it.

Huntington went up, 20-15, on a serving ace by Buttler (44 set assists), a senior setter, but Mira Costa fought back to tie the score at 25-25 on a kill by middle blocker Ryan Kaseff. The Mustangs took a 26-25 lead when a shot by Sander went wide, but went Sander came right back with a stuff at the net that tied the score at 26-26.

The score was deadlocked one final time at 27-27 before a dunk block by TenBrink put Huntington in the lead for good. With TenBrink serving on the fourth, set-point of the set for the Oilers, a shot by Kaseff went well beyond the back line, and Huntington came up with a 29-27 win.

As had been its predecessors, the third set also was a back-and-forth affair. A kill by Stephanoff gave Mira Costa a 21-20 lead but a quick kill by TenBrink, tied the score at 21-21. When Mustangs outside hitter Casey White sent a shot into the net, it put the Oilers on top, for good, 22-21.

DeFalco sewed up the victory on a kill from the left side for a 25-23 win.

"This is so awesome," TenBrink said of the win. "I've been playing for four years, and this is payback. They (Mira Costa) beat us in the third round in my freshman year to knock us out of the playoffs."

Wednesday's win gave Huntington its fourth sweep in as many CIF playoff matches. The Oilers have not lost a set in 11-straight three-set matches.

Saturday's title-game opponent, Loyola, is making a repeat trip to the Division final. Last year, the Cubs lost out on the title in five sets to Mira Costa.

Loyola is in the Division 1 championship game for the fourth time in five years. The Cubs won back-to-back titles in 2009-10.

The program has a history of repeating as a Southern Section champion: Loyola won titles between 2003-05, before that, between 1985-88, and also has won titles in 1983 and 1995.

Huntington has two titles to its credit. The Oilers won consecutive Division I championships in 1993-94. They were runner-up to the 4-A Division title in 1992.

In both years the Oilers won a championship, they defeated Mira Costa en route to the titles.

After knocking off Mira Costa Wednesday, the Oilers were surrounded on the court, a court where they went 11-0 this year, by a sea of well-wishers.

The players were soaking it all in.

"It's a great feeling," Gates added. "We're going to enjoy this right now. Then, it's all about Saturday."

It has come down to a one-match season for the Oilers. And, it's for the biggest sweep of all, the Division 1 sweepstakes.

"Our whole focus has been one match at a time," Pazanti said. "We took last night (Wednesday) to celebrate the win, and now we are focusing on Saturday."

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