LA CAÑADA — The La Cañada High boys' volleyball team was outplayed in the first two games of its CIF Southern Section Division III quarterfinal playoff match Saturday against Hemet and, as a result, found itself in a big hole.
Despite losing the first two games, the Spartans played better in the third, but still found themselves facing match-point and trailing by four points. But the Spartans held on for dear life, scoring six straight points to win the third and force a fourth game.
With all the momentum in its favor, La Cañada was hoping to parlay its surge into winning the fourth game and forcing a crucial fifth frame. However, Hemet regrouped and was able to close out the match in the fourth, ending the host Spartans' season with a 25-16, 25-21, 24-26, 25-18 victory.
"Give credit to La Cañada, they stepped up and played well at the end of that third game," Hemet Coach Bob Jensen said. "But I told our guys that we have to come back and win the fourth game. With their home crowd, we didn't want to take any chances in a fifth game."
The loss ends a wildly productive season for the Spartans (19-15). Along with having a new coach and four freshman players this season, La Cañada was able to finish second in the Rio Hondo League and not only advance to the postseason for the first time in three seasons, but was able to win two playoff contests.
"With those freshmen and the fact that the program had five wins last season, to reach the quarterfinals is a huge accomplishment," Spartans Coach Otto Lacayo said. "They really responded this season and they put in the hard work it took to be successful."
La Cañada received seven kills and four blocks from Mitchell Page. Teammate Connor Belcher had 25 digs and Connor Walbrecht had 18 digs and 22 assists.
The Spartans found themselves in a tough predicament late in the third game, trailing, 24-20, after a kill by Jared Walsh. Looking to all but wrap things up, the Bulldogs (32-1-1) were serving for match-point. However, that serve went into the net.
La Cañada proceeded to win the next four points and had a 25-24 advantage. The Spartans completed the unlikely comeback on a kill by Orion Burl.
"That's just the kind of team we are, we never give up," Spartan Jonathan Sullivan said about his team's exploits in the third game. "We knew that were down to our last point, but we just kept on fighting."
With the momentum in their favor, the Spartans worked their way to an early 3-2 lead in the fourth game. But the Bulldogs quickly snatched the advantage back and led until La Cañada was able to surge back out in front, 16-15, on a Hemet service error.
The advantage didn't last long, however, before the Bulldogs went back in front, 17-16. They would increase the advantage to four, 22-18, and the Spartans couldn't make up the deficit.
"A couple mistakes cost us in that fourth game," Lacayo said. "We were a little frustrated at times as well. But [the Bulldogs] did what they had to do to win."