Emily Wen of Pasadena Poly hits against the Santa Barbara block of Gracie Meinzer (11) and Augustine Wooten during the CIF-SS Division 4 quarterfinal match. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

The fifth-seeded Santa Barbara High girls volleyball team made plays down the stretch in a first-set win against No. 4 Pasadena Poly and had leads in the next three sets of the CIF-SS Division 4 quarterfinal on Wednesday night.

But it was the visiting Panthers that came up with more big plays than the Dons in those sets and booked a spot in the semifinals with a 19-25, 25-22, 26-24, 25-20 win at J.R. Richards Gym.

“That’s just a heartbreaker overall,” said Santa Barbara coach Kristin Hempy, who took her team to the Division 6 title last season. “It was so close, it was right there. We’re telling the girls we play them 10 times, they win five, we win five. And they won this one.”

The Panthers (19-2) won behind the play of senior setter/outside hitter Emily Wen. She was the difference-maker with her decision-making in Poly’s fast offense and her potent hitting when she was in the front row.

In the fourth set, she put away six balls from the left side as the Panthers scored eight straight points to overcome a 20-18 deficit and win the match.

“She’s an exceptional player,” Poly coach Katrina Damaso said of the Georgetown commit. “She’s obviously one of our best hitters as well, and she’s a leader this year, being able to take it in her own hands and really encourage her teammates to keep fighting for every single point.”

Both teams fought hard for points in the intense match. There were several long rallies and some amazing defensive plays.

Pasadena Poly players put up a tight block against Santa Barbara’s Whitney Meister.

Pasadena Poly players put up a tight block against Santa Barbara’s Whitney Meister. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

“We did have a little bit of serve-receive (issues) and some executing on offense in stretches and lulls, but overall I’m just really proud of them and how they played tonight,” Hempy said of her Dons, who went 24-9 and won the Channel League for the first time in several years. “That’s a really good team. They were ranked one ahead of us and it kind of looked like at match of number four and number five. We showed up and they showed up as well.”

Pasadena Poly went on a 6-0 run to break at 10-10 tie in the first set. But Santa Barbara battled back. Middle Nicole Schuetz pounded a set from Gracie Meinzer to start a four-point run to bring the Dons within one at 16-15.

Three kills from senior Shae Delany, some hitting errors by Poly and an Augustine Wooten block of an overpass allowed the Dons to take a 21-18 lead.

Another kill by Delany and a tool off the block by Emmy Werner sparked a 4-1 run to end the first set.

Santa Barbara rolled out to a 10-4 lead in the second set only to see Poly capitalize on a Dons’ lull and tie the score at 19

The Panthers got a block from Bella Duncan, a kill and a block from Wen and a taped-ace serve from Irina Alsoufiev to take a 24-21 lead. 

Santa Barbara sided out before Wen recorded another kill to win the set, 25-22, and even the match at 1-1.

“I wish we could have clinched that one,” said Hempy. “Those are the ones that could go either way, and it’s a little bit of a heartbreak when it doesn’t go yours. We’re 1-1 and they have the momentum going into the next one.”

Poly jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the third set, but Santa Barbara found its groove and climbed back.

A stuff block by Whitney Meister tied the set at 24-24. Wen fed Olivia Ip on the outside for a kill to put the Panthers ahead, but the Dons answered with a kill from Delany. She led the team with a double-double of 15 kills and 12 digs.

Santa Barbara sophomore middle Nicole Schuetz had nine kills in the quarterfinal match.

Santa Barbara sophomore middle Nicole Schuetz had nine kills in the quarterfinal match. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Poly regained the lead as Cameilia Ding made Santa Barbara pay for a dig that went over the net. Ellie Chu followed with a tough serve for the winning point.

Consecutive aces by Meinzer, kills by Schuetz, Delany and an ace by Gwen Chenoweth helped rally the Dons to a 20-17 lead in the fourth set.

Poly stepped up the pressure, but Santa Barbara’s defense did a nice job of keeping the ball in play. The Dons, however, couldn’t stop Wen.

Chu continually set her on the left side and she put the ball away. She scored six straight points to make it 24-20. 

Santa Barbara committed a hitting error for the final point.

“We had a shot in the third one and the fourth one, right?” Hempy said. “So it was just right there, it just didn’t fall our way this time.”

Nicole Schuetz was second in kills for the Dons with nine and had two blocks and two digs. Meister, Wooten and Meinzer each had four kills. Meinzer had a double-double of 21 assists and 14 digs to go with two blocks and two aces. Libero Tessa de Albergaria was the dig leader with 15.

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.