With the win, the Banana Slugs up their record to 17-6, while the Rivier Raiders end their season at 26-9.
It means that UC-Santa Cruz will play the winner of tonight's final quarterfinal match, either Carthage or Nazareth, in the second semifinal tomorrow at 6:30 pm.
Leading the way for UCSC tonight was junior outside hitter Salvatore La Cavera (Huntington Beach, Calif.) with a match-high 22 kills. He also had two blocks and three digs. He was followed by a trio of players with 10 kills apiece. They were senior opposite Shane Yoblanka (Orange, Calif.), sophomore middle blocker Will Klepac (Fremont, Calif.), and senior middle blocker Thomas Davidson (Sunnyvale, Calif.).
Davidson played particularly well by hitting .714, which included no errors in 14 swings. Klepac hit .300, La Cavera hit .291.
Senior setter Paul Leon (Laguna Niguel, Calif.) led the Slugs with 14 digs, followed by senior libero Darren Tsai (Huntington Beach, Calif.) with 13, and junior outside hitter Mauro Salinas (San Leandro, Calif.) with 10.
As for Rivier College of Nashua, N.H., freshman outside hitter Chris Markuson (Cupertino, Calif.) led the way with 18 kills in 52 swings. Freshman outside hitter Shane Spellman (Norwich, Conn.) was close behind with 17 kills in 31 swings. Spellman hit .419 to top his squad in that category.
Senior opposite Andrew Corwin (Framingham, Mass.) had 17 digs as well as two blocks. Also in double digits in digs was senior libero Chris Convertito (Trumbull, Conn.) with 10. Junior setter Steve Visentin (Cheshire, Conn.) finished with 53 set assists in the five sets of play.
As far as the match was concerned, the first set was a back and forth battle, as neither team led by more than one until Santa Cruz went up 12-10 midway through. Successive kills by sophomore middle hitter Aaron Almario (Alhambra, Calif.) and Spellman tied the game back up at 12, but La Cavera answered right back and Santa Cruz went up 15-13 at the media timeout.
The back and forth continued throughout the rest of the first game. An Almario block put Rivier ahead 19-18, but Cruz answered right back. Yablonka and Klepac teamed up for a block to put Cruz back ahead 23-22 late in the game. Rivier regrouped, however, behind a Spellman kill to knot it up at 23, and the Raiders used a Cruz attack error and a service ace to finish off the game, winning 25-23, for their only two-point lead of the set. Rivier hit .333 for that game, led by Visentin’s 16 assists and Spellman’s seven kills. Santa Cruz hit .276 and got seven kills from La Cavera.
The Banana Slugs bounced back in the second set, never trailing after taking a 12-11 advantage. Klepac’s kill made it 13-11 and forced a Rivier timeout at the halfway mark. Both teams kept pushing and Rivier tied it up at 17-apiece, but Santa Cruz finished the set on an 8-3 run behind three kills from La Cavera and a huge block from senior outside hitter Jake Dietrich (Saugus, Calif.) and Davidson to seal the game, 25-20. Santa Cruz improved its hitting percentage to .370 in the second set with 13 kills and just three attack errors. The Raiders continued to hit well at .345, but made five errors of their own.
Santa Cruz continued its strong play into the critical third set. The Banana Slugs got a kill from Davidson and an attack error from Rivier to go up 13-9 and force an early Raider timeout. After the break, Santa Cruz kept the momentum on its side with kills from Dietrich and Yablonka, pushing the lead to 17-12 and causing another Rivier timeout. The Raiders got as close as three at 22-19, but Cruz came out of its own timeout ready to finish the set. La Cavera had a big strike to make it 24-20 and a Rivier attack error gave the Banana Slugs its second straight set at 25-20.
In the fourth set, Rivier showed its resilience. Despite getting down 9-5 early, the Raiders fought back to a 12-11 score after Almario put one past the Santa Cruz frontline. Rivier evened the set at 15-15 before consecutive errors and a Banana Slug block from Dietrich and Klepac made it 18-15 Santa Cruz. Rivier called time to regroup. The Raiders came roaring out of the break intent on forcing a fifth game. Markuson tallied three kills in the last six points, and Rivier ended game four on a 10-4 run to extend the quarterfinal match after a 25-22 game four victory.
In the win-or-go home final frame, the match continued its back and forth pace. With the scored tied at 7-7, Santa Cruz finally broke away. The Banana Slugs went up 10-7 after another Yablonka kill to force Rivier to ask for time. The Raiders battled back to tie it up at 10, but could never get over the hump. A Raider service error put the Slugs up 14-12 with the serve. Leon set up Davidson and his winning strike sent Santa Cruz to a Saturday semifinal matchup with the winner of the Carthage/Nazareth quarterfinal.