SANTA BARBARA — Perhaps it was desperation, or maybe it was a suddenly improved passing game, or it could've simply been the energy with which the Flintridge Prep boys' volleyball team began to play.
More than likely it was a little bit of them all, as Flintridge Prep played arguably its best when it was needed most, turning disaster into triumph in the process.
Down two games in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs, Flintridge Prep furiously rallied for a stunning 22-25, 20-25, 25-16, 25-11, 15-10 win over host Laguna Blanca on Tuesday evening.
"I told the team, there are good wins and there are great wins," Rebels Coach Sean Beattie said after his team advanced to Thursday's second round, where it will face Firebaugh or West Valley Christian at a site to be determined, "but when you're down two, facing elimination, that's a great win."
With a noisy crowd behind it and a 2-0 lead, Laguna Blanca (11-12), the Condor League champion, seemingly had all the momentum entering the third game. But it was the third game that served as the turning point for the Rebels (11-13).
"I think it was two things," said Beattie, who got 20 kills and eight blocks from Kenyatta Smith and 12 kills and six blocks from Jared Norsworthy. "No. 1 [was] desperation. We knew this was it, one more bad game, season's over. No. 2, our mistakes went down."
Prep kept it close in each of the first two games, leading in both, but between hitting errors, errant serves and infractions gave away 18 points.
"Our passing was terrible in the first two games," Smith said.
And as Laguna and its crowd grew louder, the Rebels' play seemed to become more and more lackluster. But that changed in the intermission between the second and third games.
"I told the kids this is the time to play for your hearts," Beattie said, "because you've got nothing left after this."
Despite a Smith kill beginning the third game, the turnaround didn't begin until Laguna had taken an 8-4 lead.
A kill from Norsworthy, who came up with timely, momentum-shifting kills and blocks throughout, began a three-point swing that also included a Chad Cosse kill and a Norsworthy block to cut the score to 8-7. Ultimately, though, the swing began a 7-1 run for the Rebels in which they emerged with an 11-10 lead and an advantage they wouldn't relinquish.
"I think from game two to game three, it was all about our energy," Smith said.
A bit of a role reversal didn't hurt the Rebels either, as Laguna had seven hitting errors and three missed serves in the third game, including six of Prep's last seven points.
The fourth game was even more dominant, as the Rebels raced out to a 5-1 lead, spurred by a Smith kill and block to begin the stanza. The Rebels scored in bunches of three, four (twice) and five, as the fourth game was never close.
"Once we get in our groove, it just keeps rolling for us," Smith said. "We feel like we can't mess up."
The momentum rolled right through into the fifth game, as the Rebels took a commanding 5-0 lead thanks to a huge Smith kill to begin the game and two more Smith blocks. The lead ballooned to 8-2 before Laguna crept back in as the Rebels' old ways plagued them once more.
Said Beattie: "We make the service error and then all of a sudden …"
A serve into the net from the Rebels began a 5-0 run for Laguna, with only one point coming on a kill.
But then Nolan Jimbo struck from the outside for one of his 12 kills and the Rebels were back in their groove.
"Boom, energy back up," said Beattie, who also got 10 kills from Cosse and 51 assists from Kieran Mulroy. "This is a team that they can feed off each other."
An Alex Bates ace followed Jimbo's kill for a 10-7 lead and a four-point spurt was highlighted by an emphatic Norsworthy block after a Laguna timeout to take the lead to match-point at 14-8.
A pair of Laguna points built the tension before Norsworthy concluded the comeback with a monstrous spike that brought the handful of Prep fans that had made the drive and the Rebels into a delirium.
"The guys just played to the potential and the level I expect of them," Beattie said.