ENCINO — Officially, Friday's match was the Mission League finale for the St. Francis High and Crespi boys' volleyball teams.
But it was essentially a sudden-death match for the Golden Knights. St. Francis needed a win to keep its season alive and have a chance at advancing to the postseason for the first time since 2005.
If they defeated Crespi, the Golden Knights would have played Harvard-Westlake only 30 minutes after their match in a tie-breaking contest for the final playoff spot.
St. Francis never got to the tiebreaking match.
For the second time in league play, the Golden Knights blew a two-games-to-none lead, falling to host Crespi, 23-25, 16-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-8.
"I've been playing or coaching volleyball for 30 years now," St. Francis Coach Mark Frazee said. "I've been doing this for a long, long time. I don't mind walking out of a gym knowing that we gave it our all.
"It's tough to swallow. It's a real life lesson. I know [my players] will understand that, whether it's tomorrow or 10 years from now."
The scenario entering Friday's match was certainly unique.
Harvard-Westlake and Alemany had already finished league play with identical 5-7 records. St. Francis entered the match with a 4-7 mark. Harvard-Westlake, Alemany and St. Francis took part in a coin flip Friday morning to determine the league's third- and fourth-place teams in the event that the Golden Knights prevailed later that day.
Alemany won the coin flip and was awarded the automatic third-place playoff spot. Harvard-Westlake also traveled to Crespi, knowing that it might have had to play St. Francis late Friday night to determine the final postseason berth from the league.
Harvard-Westlake ended up being Crespi's biggest fans.
"The fact that we might play at 8 o'clock tonight is definitely unique," said Harvard-Westlake assistant Mike Gaudino, a La Canada High graduate and former All-Area Player of the Year. "I'm definitely rooting for [Crespi]."
Harvard-Westlake began warming up during the third game when St. Francis — which swept Harvard-Westlake in two matches and split its season series against Alemany — took the second game and a commanding lead.
"We knew we had them in the first two," Frazee said.
The Golden Knights almost took the third game, but a pair of kills by a Crespi team celebrating senior night forced another game. Crespi (9-3 in league) had already clinched the league's second-place spot, behind Loyola (12-0).
"I was confident going into game four," Frazee said. "But then we just weren't getting the ball to the middle. We got really predictable. When we get the ball to the middle, it opens up the outside. The passing didn't allow us any options."
A convincing win in the fourth game gave Crespi momentum in the fifth. Crespi scored the final seven points of the match, highlighted by a pair of kills from Quinn Costello (24 kills) and Danny Burns (10 digs). John Rumer also had 58 assists for Crespi.
For the Golden Knights, there were tears and frustration following the loss, but also a feeling of hope for next year.
Setter Chris Thompson had 47 assists, Wesley Coffey had 18 kills, Michael Bacall had 16 kills and Charles McCarthy had 12 kills. Libero Riley Donaldson added 22 digs. All five players will return next season, including junior Tyler Korzun, who had six kills and two blocks. Senior Kenny Leaven finished with five kills and six blocks.
"I'll be disappointed when we start to evaluate the letdowns we had," Frazee said. "But I have to give the guys a lot of credit. We were making teams [like Crespi] sweat. They played as hard as they could.
"I look forward to every year, but we're going to be very similar next year, which will be something to look forward to."