After handing national power Loyola a 25-21 loss in the opening game of Thursday’s Southern California regional semifinal contest, the host Otay Ranch Mustangs must have felt a third consecutive trip to the state championship game was once again in the making.
But a marathon 66-point second game proved to be the momentum changer as the third-seeded Chiefs rallied for a 34-32 victory and then captured the next two games by scores of 25-19 and 25-21 to emerge with a 3-1 win.
Loyola (32-4) will play top-seeded Huntington Beach (33-2) in Saturday’s Southern California regional title game at Santiago Canyon College.
“That was the turning point,” said Mustang coach Tony Fajardo, whose team finished its season 33-5. “It was two great teams going at it; we ran out of subs.”
The Cubs took a quick 4-0 lead in the third game, forcing the hosts to play catch up. Otay Ranch did just that, narrowing the score to 19-17 before the visitors began to feed off their own inspired play as well as capitalizing on unforced errors by the Mustangs.
Errant serving, in particular, doomed the three-time defending San Diego Section Division I champions in the contest.
“To compete with a team like that, we did it,” Fajardo said. “They just withstood our punches and hung in there. Give Loyola credit. Our kids fought until the end. I’m proud of them.”
It appeared the second-seeded Mustangs, who were cheered on by a large and rabid crowd, might force a fifth and deciding game after building leads of 12-10 and 15-14 in the fourth game. Again, untimely mistakes cost them on the scoreboard.
The Cubs took the lead for good at 18-17 and then weathered a valiant Otay Ranch combeback.
The Mustangs trimmed Loyola’s lead from 21-17 to 21-19, but promptly sputtered.
Andrew Freiha led Otay with 23 kills while Jared Arias had 11 kills, five aces and three blocks. Adrian Ventura finished with 38 assists.
Garrett Mohr paced the Cubs with 14 kills while teammate Hayden Boehle collected 12 kills and 13 digs. Chris Kennedy led Loyola with 25 assists.
“Game Two was pretty draining for all of us,” said Arias, who will attend the University of Arizona. “It was 34-32 — it’s a pretty long game. When you play a game that long, you have to stay focused. We had opportunities to win but we fell short. They’re a great team. They deserved the credit to win.”
Otay Ranch proved it is a great team as well. At the end of the night, Mustang fans cheered their team for the final time, sending them off with a spirited chant of “We still love you.”
The boys volleyball season isn’t quite over yet. The Metro Conference all-star games are scheduled Tuesday, May 28, at Otay Ranch High School. The girls game is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m., followed by the boys game at 7 p.m.
The San Diego County all-star games are scheduled Thursday, May 30, at Scripps Ranch High School. The girls game is scheduled at 5:30 p.m., followed by the boys game at 7 p.m.
Freiha, Arias and Ventura will represent the Mustangs in the boys game while several other Metro schools will also contribute players.
“This should be the biggest contingent we’ve had from the South Bay,” Fajardo said.
Huntington Beach defeated Loyola, 3-2, in the Southern Section Division I finals on May 18. The Cubs led 2-1 in games before the Oilers rallied with 25-22, 15-10 victories to secure the CIF title.
Huntington Beach defeated fourth-seeded San Clemente (33-4) by match scores of 25-20, 25-18, 26-24 in Tuesday's other SoCal semifinal