HUNTINGTON BEACH — TJ DeFalco opened with an ace serve Thursday night and from there, it was aces all around for the Huntington Beach High boys' volleyball team.
The Oilers reserved a spot in Saturday's CIF Southern California Regional Division 1 championship match by sweeping past visiting San Clemente, 25-20, 25-18, 26-24, before another great crowd at Huntington's Elmer Combs Gymnasium.
Huntington, the top seed in the tournament, returns to Santiago Canyon College in Orange for Saturday's 7:30 p.m. Division 1 finale. It's the same court site where the Oilers defeated Los Angeles Loyola, 3-2, to win the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title last Saturday.
The Oilers again will face Loyola in another title tilt on Saturday. The Cubs, the tourney's No. 3 seed, won, 21-25, 34-32, 25-19, 25-21, at No. 2-seeded Chula Vista Otay Ranch in Thursday's other division semifinal.
Huntington needed just over an hour to polish off San Clemente to even the season series between the teams at 1-1. The Oilers (33-2) dominated the No. 4 seed and forced the Tritons (33-4) to play from behind throughout most of the match.
The outcome, and look of the Oilers, was much different than when the teams met in the championship final of the Orange County Championships.
"We didn't have our full lineup in that match," Huntington senior middle blocker Andrew TenBrink said of the March meeting between the teams. "Brenden [Sander] was out injured and we had a few guys playing out of position. Tonight, we were at full strength."
Without Sander, a junior outside hitter, Huntington dropped a 3-1 match to the Tritons.
It is the last loss for the Oilers, who have since ripped off 23 consecutive victories.
"We got on them early and never let up," TenBrink said. "We passed really well and kept the momentum going all match. It feels good to get the sweep."
DeFalco, a sophomore outside hitter, served up an ace for the opening point of the match. Huntington maintained a three-point cushion throughout the early stages of the first set although San Clemente rallied to tie the score at 15-15. It was an 18-17 Huntington lead before the Oilers went on a 5-0 tear to gain a comfortable lead at 22-17.
The run ended with an another ace, this time, by Sander. A kill down the left side line by senior opposite Zach Gates, completed a 25-20 win for the Oilers.
The score was tied, 11-11, in the second set before Huntington put together another quick run to establish control. It started when DeFalco scored off a block and included a block by Sander, ace by DeFalco, double block at the net by Gates and junior middle blocker Drake Evans, and the lead became 16-11 when the Tritons were hit with an overlap call.
The Oilers held their biggest lead of the set, 24-16, on an ace by Sander, and took a 2-0 lead in the match when a kill straight down the middle by DeFalco, completed a 25-18 win.
The third set featured several tie scores but again, Huntington surged late to earn a 28-26 victory.
The final tie occurred at 24-24. It was broken when TenBrink scored off a quick set from the middle, the score putting Huntington at match point No. 2. They got that point when TenBrink scored on a quick put back.
"I told the seniors, win or lose, this is the last match they will play in this building," Huntington Coach Craig Pazanti said. "In this building, this gym, with this crowd, it's tough to beat us here.
"I thought we passed very well tonight and played great defense. We didn't give up any aces. I thought if we could get out in front early, and get the crowd behind us, then we would be tough to beat. We got ahead early and took it from there."
Pazanti said the Oilers have gone undefeated at home the past two years.
"I told them that they now have the opportunity to be a state champion for the first time in school history," he said.