LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Pasadena Poly boys' volleyball Coach Mark Mina admitted his team probably showed up at Flintridge Prep expecting a Prep League sweep on Tuesday afternoon.
The Panthers almost got one. Performed on them, that is, by a Rebels squad that became ever more fired up with wins in the first two games and taking the third down to the wire.
Michael Saeta simply wouldn't allow Poly to go down, however, igniting a late rally to win the third game before going on to finish with 51 kills in his team's 21-25, 25-27, 25-20, 25-22, 15-13 win that lifted the Panthers into a tie for first place with Chadwick with two matches left in the season.
"Coming up to CIF [playoffs], this is a great game to play," said Saeta, whose team improved to 13-4 and 5-1 in league where it has matches remaining with Webb on Thursday and Chadwick to end the season on May 1.
The Rebels, on the other hand, suffered a blow to their hopes for a playoff berth, or one of the league's three automatics, anyway.
Prep, which got 14 kills and six blocks from Kareem Ismail and 12 kills from Kory Hamane, fell to 9-13 and 2-5 in league so that it must now depend on Webb losing both or at least one of its next two league matches to give the Rebels a chance to leapfrog the Gauls in the standings or force a tie for third place when the teams meet in their season finale on May 1.
"It stings, but as I told the guys outside, how could I be mad about a game like this," said Rebels Coach Sean Beattie, whose team was swept by Poly in the first meeting of the year on March 20. "This was one of the best games of the year.
"It's one of those things where we wish we could have played like this for the last three or four games and [we wouldn't be] in the situation we are, which is possibly missing playoffs."
Indeed it looked as if Prep might be on the verge of its biggest win of the year after rocking the Panthers back on their heels in the first two games, including ending the second by winning a slugfest of big hits traded back and forth, and going for the kill in the third.
The game had been close throughout and Hamane kept it that way with a kill that helped close a three-point deficit back to one, 19-18.
But then Saeta took over, beginning with a sideout on a kill and continuing with back-to-back aces to help Poly pull away and stave off the sweep.
The fourth game was a near replica of the third, with Prep staying within a point or two the entire way until Poly got out to a 20-16 lead. After a Panthers touch-out, Ismail scored a point on an authoritative block before Prep pulled back within one on a block by Ismail and Chadd Cosse. Again, it was Saeta turning the tide with a kill that sparked a 5-3 closeout run capped by a kill form C.E. Lehman.
"You go down two early and you've really gotta fight and that's what these guys did," Saeta said. "We pulled together as a team, we made some adjustments. ...Our hitters got confident, we really just came together as a team."
Both teams held form in the fifth game, neither giving more than a couple points' worth of ground. Prep led, 9-6, but saw the Panthers close in to 10-9 on a run that included two Saeta kills. Poly took its first lead, 11-10, moments later on a kill by Mark Loyola and never looked back.
"I think we were a little overconfident," said Mina, who got 16 kills from Colin Woolway. "I think we came in with a mentality of three games and done. It almost ended up the other way. Fortunately, we ended up with the back three."