April 26, 2007
MALIBU, Calif. - Twelve days ago Pepperdine had already wrapped up the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation's (MPSF) top seed and seemingly a berth in next week's NCAA Championship Tournament as the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos paid a visit to Firestone Fieldhouse riding a four-match win streak.
But there was no let down by the Waves that night as Pepperdine snapped UCSB's streak with a 3-1 victory on Senior Night.
Tonight, with the Gauchos riding the momentum of an emotional 3-1 victory over UCLA in the MPSF Quarterfinals five days ago and their postseason lives in the balance, Pepperdine again went about its business as usual.
And business as usual in Malibu these days is winning.
"Tonight was a pretty typical match for our season," said Marv Dunphy who was named the conference's Coach of the Year last week. "The only time we got in trouble was when we made a few hitting errors."
In defeating the Gauchos, 3-1 (30-23, 24-30, 30-26, 30-20), in the first of two conference semifinal matches Thursday night, Pepperdine improved to 26-1 on the season, the second most wins in a single season behind the 29-5 mark of the 2002 Waves. In the process, Pepperdine also equaled the program's longest win streak of 23 originally achieved during the end of the 1985 season and beginning of the 1986 season.
Pepperdine came out ready to prove their 21-1 conference record was no fluke. Behind six of Paul Carroll's team-leading 22 kills on the night, the Waves fired on all cylinders, hitting .538 as a team with four blocks and 10 digs.
Back-to-back Carroll kills with the score knotted at 15 ignited the home team on a 4-0 run that included consecutive blocks, first of David Kennedy, then Bryan Berman.
Santa Barbara went to its go-to guy Evan Patak to end the run but the damage had already been done and the Gauchos would get no closer than two points before going down 1-0 in the match.
Another tightly contested affair ensued in game two. With the set locked at 10, Patak and Carroll traded kills. Ties at 12- and 13-all followed before UC Santa Barbara finally broke through and claimed a 16-13 lead.
Pepperdine would close within two on several occasions but was never able to get over the hump and with the Gauchos leading 24-22, they were able to knot up the match at 1-1 with a 6-2 run to close out the frame.
Santa Barbara hit .594 for the game with 20 kills to just one error.
Even after dropping the second game, Pepperdine never lost sight of the ultimate goal, getting to Saturday's championship match.
"We want to win every time and we expect to win," said the MPSF's Player of the Year Jonathan Winder. "We are just going out there and competing and hopefully the ball drops our way."
Game three saw the Waves get out to a commanding 17-10 lead after scoring four straight points capped by one of two Tom Hulse aces on the night. With Pepperdine leading 20-12, Santa Barbara began to see its season slipping away. Not willing to go down without a fight, the visiting Gauchos mounted a furious charge to pull within one at 24-23, much to the delight of the Santa Barbara faithful who had become very boisterous in the process.
On the ensuing play, the 6-foot-8 Winder decided to take matters in his own hands to put the Waves back up by two, 25-23. Michael Fisher scored the next point for Santa Barbara but Pepperdine imposed its will on the Gauchos and held on for the victory and a 2-1 lead in the match.
Santa Barbara scored the first two points of game four and the score was tied eight times up to 10-10 before a Patak service error paved the way for a 7-1 Pepperdine run. This time, the Waves never let the Gauchos off the matt and after a Berman attack hit Carroll in the chest and sailed back over the net for match point, Pepperdine celebrated its first trip back to the conference title match since 2005.
The Waves turned in 19 kills on 26 errorless swings in the final game.
J.D. Schleppenbach hit .400 with 18 kills and 10 digs to complete his second double-double of the season. Greg Gaudino had 13 kills on .571 hitting and six blocks. Carroll hit .381 and Hulse had nine kills on .643 hitting and six blocks for Pepperdine.
Patak led all players with 26 kills, while Theo Brunner ended the night with 15 on .324 hitting.
Pepperdine will look to pick up the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Championship Tournament Saturday at 7 p.m. (PDT) when it hosts the UC Irvine Anteaters who defeated the second-seeded BYU Cougars, 3-2, in the second semifinal match.
The match will air live on CSTV with Chris McGee and Dain Blanton calling the action. Tickets for the match may be purchased by calling 1-866-WAVE TIX.