LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — By the end of the second game of Friday night’s CIF Southern Section Division V first-round playoff game, the Flintridge Prep boys’ volleyball team was already thinking about the second round.
The Rebels’ opponent, the visiting California Academy of Math and Science, also nicknamed the Rebels, jolted them back into the present moment with a furious third-game rally that almost sent the match to a fourth game.
It was enough to startle the home team’s focus back onto the job at hand, a job which Prep saw through to the finish, sooner rather than later, with a 25-11, 25-14, 25-22 victory.
“I think we went a little bit on cruise control,” said Prep Coach Sean Beattie, whose team improved to 18-5 on the year, the highest win total in Beattie’s 12 seasons on the job. “[The Rebels] are not a typical first-round opponent, they’re scrappy, they got balls up and they made some good plays and I think that’s where we started to get frustrated with ourselves.”
Gavin Thomson led Prep with 16 kills and three aces and sophomore middle blocker Kenyatta Smith was a strong presence on the front row with four kills and six blocks for the Rebels, who will advance to play Cate or Thousand Oaks Hillcrest Christian in the second round on Tuesday at a site to be determined by coin flip.
In each of the first two games, early six- and seven-point runs were all Prep needed to secure victories.
Seven unanswered points in the first game with setter Steve Morse (21 assists) serving broke a 7-7 tie and provided enough separation for an easy runaway win. Likewise, in the second game, CAMS never exhibited the firepower to recover from a 6-0 Prep run with JT Tredwell serving to open the game.
And, when Prep again jumped out to early 6-2 and 9-4 leads in the third game, a lopsided Prep win appeared a likely outcome.
But not to CAMS, which caught Prep up at 10 on an ace by Jon Hernandez and took a 15-13 lead, prompting a Prep timeout.
Thomson wrestled the lead back for Prep with a kill that made it 17-16, but CAMS once again took the lead, 19-18.
Another kill from Thomson tied it again, but CAMS wouldn’t be denied, as Zack Carlson put the visitors up, 21-20, with a kill.
Smith had a huge block to break a 21-21 tie and give the Rebels a lead they would maintain up until the very end, when Arthur Kang iced the win with one of his six kills.
Kang finished with a team-high seven digs, as well.
“We got a little relaxed in the third game, we got excited and we thought this match was already in the bag,” said Smith, who helped Prep get some momentum back when he reentered the match late in the third game with his team clinging to a 20-19 lead. “The first two games weren’t as hard for us, but the third game was more challenging and that should make us better.”