Zack La Cavera hits against Loyola-Chicago's Thomas Jaeschke and… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)
Loyola of Chicago ended its first trip to the NCAA men’s volleyball championships with a semifinal loss to UC Irvine at Pauley Pavilion on Friday.
Second-seeded UC Irvine (24-7), the defending national champions, beat the third-seeded Ramblers (22-10) in straight sets, 26-24, 25-18, 29-27.
UC Irvine will face top-seeded Brigham Young in the title match Saturday after the Cougars eliminated fourth-seeded Penn State, 25-21, 25-16, 25-22. Both BYU and UC Irvine will be appearing in the finals for the fourth time, and each has won three titles.
Loyola saved four match points in the final set but couldn’t save the fifth, a kill by junior outside hitter Connor Hughes.
In winning the first set, Loyola trailed only once, on the very first point when Thomas Jaeschke served into the net.
Loyola grabbed the largest lead of the set with a kill from freshman Cody Caldwell, who's from nearby Newport Beach. His smash gave the Ramblers a 20-17 lead with Joseph Smalzer serving. But senior Kevin Tillie scored on a kill for the Anteaters and then again to pull Irvine within 20-19 and force Loyola into a timeout.
UC Irvine took its first lead of the set when Tillie and Collin Mehring combined to block an attempted kill from Smalzer. With the defending national champions ahead, Loyola took its second timeout.
Loyola took the lead once again, 22-21, when Tillie’s shot went long. But it was the Anteaters who finished out the set strong. They saved one set point, took their first lead of the set on a Scott Kevorken kill for a 25-24 lead and got the set winner from Zack La Cavera, a 6-foot-4 sophomore.
Tillie, a senior, led the Anteaters with six kills in the first set. Smalzer had four for the Ramblers.
The second set was back and forth. Loyola freshman Peter Hutz put the Ramblers ahead, 9-7, with the first service ace of the game but then gave back a point when his next serve landed in the net.
But the set started to get away from Loyola when a Tillie kill gave the Anteaters a 17-15 lead and another from Kevorken put them up, 18-15, and convinced Ramblers coach Shane Davis to call timeout. He called another when the Anteaters went up, 20-16, after a block by Tillie and Kevorken scored for UC Irvine.
The Anteaters finished the second set on a 7-2 run and won it, 25-18, when a Caldwell shot went wide.
Tillie had 17 kills in the first two sets, 11 in the second.
Loyola quickly fell behind, 8-4, in the third set. A La Cavera kill for the Anteaters had Davis bringing his team together for a talk. No team since San Diego State in 1972 had recovered to win a match after losing the first two sets in the NCAA championship semifinal or final round.
After twice trailing by five points in the final set, Loyola drew within 18-17, but with the help of two more kills from Tillie, the Anteaters went ahead, 22-19, so Davis called yet another timeout.
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