LA CAÑADA — Whether it has been playoff basketball or postseason volleyball, the fanatic students at Flintridge Prep have seen their share of memorable contests.
They saw another thrilling match Tuesday night when the Prep boys' volleyball team took on Cerritos Whitney in a first-round contest of the CIF Southern Section Division IV playoffs.
The Rebels took an exciting first game and dropped the next two games by a combined five points before winning the fourth game by three points, setting up a winner-take-all fifth game.
Prep's Chad Cosse ended the fourth game with an emphatic kill and began the fifth game with a statement kill, as the Rebels went on to defeat the Wildcats, 25-18, 22-25, 24-26, 25-22, 15-11.
The Rebels (18-7), winners of 10 of their past 11 contests, will play Santa Fe League runner-up Los Angeles Salesian (14-8) or Los Padres League's second-place finisher Santa Ynez (10-14) in Thursday's second round.
“It's a small gym, so 50 people make it sound like 100 people, when you get 75, it makes it sound like 200. That intensity goes back and forth,” Rebels Coach Sean Beattie said.
“Both teams played on an emotional roller coaster. It's either you're up or you're down. It was an up-and-down game. It was a solid game by both teams.”
The tone of the match was set in the first game.
Neither team led by more than three in the early stages of the game and Prep only pulled away when it scored five consecutive points to break a 12-12 tie. The Rebels' five consecutive points were the most unanswered points either team scored in the entire match.
“You're living and dying on every point, it's because you know one or two points can decide a game,” Beattie said. “What we talked about was trying to be clean. Make them earn points. Don't give them points.”
The Rebels, the Prep League champions, didn't follow their coach's advice.
Prep had 13 unforced errors in the second game and seven in the third, as a strong Whitney team, which tied for second in the Academy League, took two consecutive games.
“They're a solid team,” Beattie said. “They have big blockers up. They have guys who could put the ball down. We fell apart in a couple of games. We gave them points in the third game. It's one of those things where you live and die on each point. Sometimes we think about the last play. That's when the next point is going to be messed up as well.”
The points were crucial in a tight third game.
Whitney (14-6) had a 23-19 lead, but the Rebels scored four consecutive points to tie the score. After the teams exchanged points, Anthony Semaan of Whitney registered a block and a kill for the Whitney win. Semaan had a team-high 12 kills.
“It was our own mistakes,” Rebels senior setter Mike Lii said. “Our minds were drifting. We started getting frustrated. The thing that Sean has been telling us all year is we have to stay positive.”
The Rebels stayed positive.
They stormed out to a lead in the fourth game, led by a host of players, from Lii to freshman middle blocker Dante Fregoso to senior Kareem Ismail and Cosse.
“This wasn't going to be our last game,” Cosse said.
Added Lii: “We worked too hard to lose right now. We don't want to lose. We want to keep pushing.”
Prep took the fourth game when Cosse ended a Whitney three-point run with a powerful kill from the right side.
“We've been doing this all season,” Lii said. “We have the crowd, we have the bench. Our team is what makes us.”
Moments later, Cosse came back strong to start the fifth game, just like his coach wanted him to.
“We wanted to put the ball down hard to let them know that we're going to be swinging,” Beattie said. “I told them, 'That first swing [in the fifth game], swing as hard as you can. We'll cover you. If you get blocked, you get blocked.' He popped that ball.”
Cosse led his team with a match-high 17 kills, with Ismail adding 16 kills and five blocks. Fregoso contributed 10 kills and senior Tyler Weakland had eight.
“The good thing about this team is that this is the best all-around offensive team we have had in my 16 years here,” Beattie said. “We've had some better hitters, but not as a whole. We have two good outsides, we have two good middles and we have an opposite who could hit the ball. It's not like the same guy leading kills in each game. It's not like you can key on any one guy.”