The Mustangs win! The Mustangs win! You had to be there in person to believe your eyes. The date was Thursday, May 26. The place was Otay Ranch High School. Those who “believed” in the school’s boys volleyball team’s history-making championship season numbered in the hundreds as members of The Stampede, the team’s energetic fan base.
The floor was covered with ecstatic screaming fans after Otay Ranch was awarded the match-winning point in its dramatic come-from-behind 27-25 fourth game victory over visiting Burbank Burroughs to culminate a 3-1 win in the semifinal round of the 2011 Southern California championship playoffs.
The second-seeded Mustangs (32-7) advance to Saturday’s (May 28) Division I regional final at Irvine Valley College against the top-seeded Buchanan Bears (38-3). Game time is 7 p.m.
Many of Otay Ranch’s players and fans still have to be tingling after the electrifying finish to Thursday’s regional semifinal against the Indians (34-5).
The hosts, who won the opening game 25-21 before dropping a 25-10 decision in the second game, captured the third game between the teams 25-16 to go up 2-1 in games.
However, Burroughs managed to maintain a four-point lead over the Mustangs for much of the fourth game, and it appeared the teams would switch positions on the court for a final and deciding fifth game, with the momentum belonging to the visitors.
But the Indians never got that chance to finish off the reigning San Diego Section Division I champions.
Otay Ranch slowly closed the gap between numerous side-outs in the fading moments of that pivotal fourth game. A 22-18 Burroughs evaporated to a three-point lead, then to a two-point lead and eventually to a one-point advantage. Then, all of a sudden, the teams were tied 25-25. The hosts managed to retain serve and their frenzied fans began to cheer the loudest.
Believe, they did.
The game-winning point came unexpectedly during what had become a lengthy series of unbroken volleys between the teams that defined the entire match-up.
There was no question Otay Ranch had played its best all season. Mustang coach Tony Fajardo said his team was forced to do so.
“That was a great team,” the ORHS coach said in reference to Burroughs, the Southern Section Division III runner-up. “We had to play at our best because they were such a solid team. They kept volleying the ball at us all evening.”
Indeed, there were spectacular plays made by both teams to keep the ball in play as more than 700 amazing Mustangs fans witnessed history continue.
The first game featured just such a play from Otay’s J.J. Olaogun, who stuck out his foot to save the ball at the Mustang back line, with relentless hustle from Jared Arias to close the game with a four-point victory. The amazing play was captured by a camera crew from KUSI-TV.
Burroughs, however, came back to dominate the host in the second game, winning by 15 points.
“They punched us in the face and kicked us in the ...,” Fajardo said.
If there was a momentum change, it happened between the second and third games.
Said Fajardo: “Game 3 started with the fans cheering and chanting like crazy to get our guys going. It worked, we responded and we returned the favor with an impressive 25-16 win. In the fourth and decisive game, the Indians jumped out to an early lead and kept that lead until we caught them at 23-23. Then we traded exciting points up to 25-25.”
The next two deciding points came on a tap-down kill from Arias and a net violation on Burroughs.
“Teamwork, perseverance and the non-stop energy from the fans willed us to an exciting come-from-behind 27-25 victory in Game 4,” Fajardo said. “History continues!”
Nico Pizarro led the semifinal regional victors with 13 kills while Jorge Reyes totaled 12 kills and Arias had 11 kills. Nick Alegrado had 40 assists while Olaogun had 24 digs.
Nathan Allen, who has been a big factor in the team’s success since his return to the line-up from a season-long injury, credited positive thinking for the Mustangs’ inspirational rally.
“All the players thought we could win that game,” he said. “After we lost the second game, I decided that I was going to do everything in my power to make sure we won.”
That same mental plan was duplicated throughout the Otay Ranch roster.
“When were down 18-22, I think we all realized we could do it,” Arias said. “We just had to keep coming back, and we did.”
“Teamwork — that’s what this team is all about,” Allen said. “We are a brotherhood and just work together.”
“We just had to work hard and keep the momentum going, and see what happened,” Fajardo said, “even if it went to a fifth game.”
This is the third year for the Southern California boys regional championship tournament. There is currently no equivalent tournament in Northern California, making the SoCal finals the de facto state championship.
Otay Ranch appears to have its work cut out for itself in the regional title game. Buchanan is ranked fourth in the nation by ESPN RISE and may be in line to become the mythical national champion if the Bears defeat the Mustangs (as the previously three top-ranked teams all lost in the last week).
“These guys are real good and we can’t wait to play them,” Fajardo said.
Buchanan captured first place in the Las Vegas Easter Invitational — the same tourney in which Otay Ranch placed third.
“We were just two points away from getting a shot at them,” the Mustang coach said. “Now we’ve earned it the long way.”
The Stampede once again expects to make a lot of noise. Three spirit buses will available to transport students to Irvine Valley College on Saturday. The buses will leave at approximately 3:30 p.m. and are available only to students on a first come, first serve basis.
Signed permission slips are required for non-Otay Ranch boys volleyball players. Permission slips will be available before the buses leave. Students are asked to be on campus by 3 p.m.
Irvine Valley College is located at 5500 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine.
Francis Parker defeated Coastal League rival Bishop’s, 3-0, to advance to Saturday’s SoCal Division III title game. The Lancers (16-16-1) will play Laguna Beach (22-11) at 11 a.m., also at Irvine Valley College.
Otay Ranch and Francis Parker become the first two San Diego area teams to qualify for the SoCal championships.
Otay Ranch spikes Santa Monica in opening round of regional playoffs
The San Diego Section Division I boys volleyball champion Otay Ranch Mustangs clearly had something on their agenda after falling behind visiting Santa Monica in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round of the eight-team Southern California regional playoffs.
SAMOHI, as the visitors prefer to be called, held off a furious Otay Ranch rally to win the first game 25-22. After that, the Mustangs — both literally and figuratively — took it to the next level to earn a berth in Thursday’s regional semifinals.
“When we play taller teams, we seem to struggle in the beginning,” said Nick Alegrado, who dished out 49 assists in Otay Ranch’s spirited 25-19, 25-19, 25-15 comeback to prevail. “But once we got the feel of them, we saw where their holes were and we took advantage of that.”
The Mustangs (31-7) clearly fed off the energy of their home fans, affectionally dubbed The Stampede, who were louder than ever.
Otay Ranch coach Tony Fajardo said keeping focus was the key. “We’ve done this a couple of times this year where we came on at the end of a game and still lost by a couple of points, but were able to keep the momentum going,” he said. “It just bleeds into the next game. I’m very pleased the guys kept on fighting.”
Nico Pizarro keyed the Mustangs with 13 kills while Jorge Reyes and Nate Allen each racked up 12 against the Southern Section Division IV champs. Frank Herrera led the way with four blocks while Jared Arias had two stuffs.
The Mustangs entered Tuesday’s regional playoff game buoyed by a 4-2 showing at the recent Redondo Classic, so playing teams from the Greater Los Angeles Area was not something entirely new. It proved to be a fortuitous scouting trip.
“We always have a positive attitude,” Pizarro said. “We always have the mind-set that we can win it in three games, in the shortest possible time. We had very good passing and our blocking was unstoppable.”
Otay Ranch was scheduled to host Burroughs (34-4) from Burbank in Thursday’s regional semifinals, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s regional final at Irvine Valley College (7 p.m. start).