ORANGE — When the field was set for the 2013 CIF Southern California Regional Division 1 boys' volleyball playoffs earlier in the week, Huntington Beach High Coach Craig Pazanti said he had asked his team to "finish things the right way."
The Oilers had just come off a title-clinching performance, but their season was not yet complete.
Pazanti got his wish Saturday.
One week after capturing its first CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship, Huntington returned to Santiago Canyon College and won its first CIF regional title by beating the same opponent, Los Angeles Loyola, it had defeated on this same floor on May 18. As was the case in that first meeting, the Oilers squeezed past the Cubs in five sets, winning by scores of 25-22, 20-25, 29-27, 20-25, 15-12.
Huntington was the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and finished what Pazanti had asked of his squad.
CIF regional champions.
It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
"It sure does," Pazanti said. "This is amazing. When we won Game 3, I thought we were a team of destiny. The resiliency these guys showed tonight, was just amazing."
The turning point in the match was the third set. Loyola (32-4) was on the verge of taking a 2-1 lead in the match and had Huntington (34-2) all but put away. The Cubs on four occasions held an eight-point lead in the set, the final time at 21-13. They still were up 23-17 on a kill from junior middle blocker Cole Paullin. Then, things changed. Quickly.
Two shots that went out of bounds, and successive double contact calls against Loyola, with Huntington senior setter Matt Butler at the serve, drew the Oilers to within 23-21. The Cubs were at set point (24-23) when senior middle blocker Garrett Mohr sent another shot long. Suddenly, the score was tied. The Cubs again were at set point at 25-24, but outside hitter Hayden Boehle served into the net. Again, tied score.
The score was tied twice more and Huntington went into the lead for good when Loyola outside hitter Hagen Smith sent a shot into the next. The Oilers pulled out an improbable, 29-27 win when opposite Jackson Bantle, who had an outstanding match for the Cubs, was long on his shot.
"That's as good as any comeback I've ever seen as a coach," Pazanti said. "Down eight, with a rally score, and to come back and win, is almost unheard of. These guys just stuck it out, played hard and played together. It was unbelievable."
Loyola rebounded from that devastating loss in the third set to even the match again by winning, 20-25, in the fourth set. Huntington took its only lead (8-7) on a kill from the left side by sophomore outside hitter TJ DeFalco but Loyola scored the next three points to stay in front the remainder of the way.
The Oilers never trailed in the decisive set. They took a 3-0 lead when junior outside hitter Brenden Sander landed a kill on the opposite side of the court. Loyola closed to within a point five different times and a kill out of the back row by Bantle cut Huntington's lead to 11-10. A straight shot down the middle for a point by senior Andrew TenBrink, who then teamed up with DeFalco on a double block, put the Oilers up, 13-10.
The Cubs were within 13-12 but when Smith shot long, it put Huntington at match point. A vicious kill from the left side by DeFalco punctuated a 15-12 win for the Oilers.
"This is just a result of hard work, sweat and perseverance — and never giving up," Butler said. "Every single one of our players wanted to win."
The Oilers went out on the ultimate high, ending the season on a 24-match win streak that created a Sunset League title and two, Southern Section and SoCal Regional, Division 1 championships.
"Honestly, I can't describe this feeling," senior opposite Zach Gates said. "I think it was all about us being confident. We played with confidence all the way through the playoffs."
"It was about poise and confidence," he said. "I don't think they ever thought they'd lose, ever. We have a lot of depth and a lot of talent on this team, but it was about having confidence."