OCC recovers quickly

As the Orange Coast College men's volleyball team takes sole occupancy of the Pacific Coast Conference penthouse, it can be said that Grossmont has served as its front-desk clerk.

The Griffins have continued to be the source of wake-up calls for the Pirates, the latest coming Friday in OCC's 23-25, 25-7, 25-15, 25-22 victory over the visitors from El Cajon in a battle for first place.

It was Grossmont (11-5, 8-2 in conference) that handed the Coach Travis Turner's squad its only defeat, a five-game road setback on March 12. And it was the Griffins who appeared bent on repeating that outcome by taking the opening set in Costa Mesa.

But OCC (16-1, 9-1), righted itself to claim a dominant Game 2 triumph and proceeded to close it out in four, gaining the tiebreaker over the Griffins, should they wind up tied for first.

But with just two matches left – at home against third-place Irvine Valley (7-3 in conference) on Tuesday and at last-place San Diego Mesa (0-17 this season) on April 11 – it would take a highly unlikely misstep to deny the Pirates at least a share of the conference crown.

"This was a big win for us," Turner said of his team's seventh straight triumph, only the fifth time this season that the Pirates have not swept their opponent. "With this win, we basically clinch the conference title [and a first-round bye in the regional playoffs]. Even if we lose to IVC and tie [Grossmont], we have the tiebreaker against Grossmont [having won five of the nine games played between the two this season]. We would have to lose to Mesa to not win it."

Not winning was a possibility Friday, as the Griffins, who came in on a seven-match winning streak, rallied from deficits of 5-1 and 15-13 to claim the opening set.

"These guys gave us our first loss, but I guess we didn't really come ready to play," said OCC sophomore setter Brendan Duff, who had 48 assists. "[The Griffins] surprised us. They were definitely ready to play."

Turner said he was uncertain why the Pirates faltered early.

"I don't know if it was nerves or maybe we were a little bit over-excited about the match," Turner said. "But we didn't play well, I know that. We haven't had nine hitting errors in one game all season."

But whatever the shortcoming, the Pirates got it rolling in the second set.

"In Game 2, everything went for us," Duff said. "I've never played ball like that where everything is going our way."

The momentum shifted again in the third set, when Grossmont took a 6-1 lead. But OCC, which received 17 kills, seven digs and three solo blocks from 6-foot-5 sophomore outside hitter Ty Hutchins, rallied to take an 11-10 lead and never trailed again in the set.

Jim Webb, a 6-6 freshman opposite bound for Long Beach State, added 16 kills and one of the hosts' four aces, while 6-6 freshman middle blocker Nick Amado had 12 kills, one solo block and four block assists.

Also contributing for the winners were 6-1 freshman outside hitter Brandon Dau (seven kills and two block assists) and freshman libero Ryan Manoogian (a team-best nine digs).

Duff chipped in four block assists, three digs and one ace.

OCC squandered third-set leads of 5-0 and 7-1, as Grossmont took leads of 13-11 and 19-18. But the Pirates, who posted an 11-3 advantage in total blocks, came through when it counted.

"We just brought our energy," Duff said of the primary adjustment after the first set. "We didn't bring our energy in Game 1, but after that, we remembered what we were playing for and we made it happen."

Hutchins, Webb and Duff were difference-makers for OCC. Hutchins did not play in the match at Grossmont, when Turner, who later cited his desire to create a little adversity for his team, elected to let him sit after he forgot his jersey.

"I thought Webb had a big night," Turner said of the powerfully built pin hitter, who regularly blasted through blockers and overwhelmed Grossmont back-row passers with his thunderous spikes. "When he sets his mind to it, he's as good as anyone playing anywhere."

Turner was also pleased by his team's defense, particularly blocking.

"We've been pretty good offensively all year and our defense hasn't been as good," Turner said. "But I thought we did a nice job defensively tonight. We haven't been blocking balls at all, but two weeks ago, that started to change and we've been blocking better."

Duff said the Pirates are where they want to be, but they are mindful of avoiding any further wake-up calls.

"We're on track to win, but we have a long way to go," Duff said.

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