No. 15 UC Santa Barbara’s playoff hopes took a huge hit Friday night as it suffered a three-set loss to No. 11 USC, 27-25, 28-26, 25-21.
The Gauchos (10-14, 5-11) entered the night in a tie with the Trojans (12-13, 6-10 MPSF) for the eighth and final spot in the MPSF Tournament. They will need to win both of its matches next week against BYU and have USC drop its two remaining matches against Cal Baptist.
Senior outside hitter Jacob Delson once again led the team in kills on Friday night, notching 13 on 29 swings. Freshman outside Roy McFarland finished just behind him with 11, while freshman middle blocker Keenan Sanders added nine kills. Setter Casey McGarry had a productive night quarterbacking the offense, totaling 40 assists in just three sets.
Four different Gaucho hitters had at least three kills in a first set that was extraordinarily tight, with the two teams producing 22 ties and eight lead changes. UCSB never led by more than two points in the game, while USC’s biggest advantage was just three points. The Gauchos were the first team to reach set point at 24-23, but a kill and ace from Andy Benesh swung momentum back in the Trojans’ favor. After trading points, middle blocker Ryan Moss chipped in one of his five kills to clinch it for USC.
The second set was just as tight as the first, with the two teams tangling into a deadlock at each point from 12-12 to 26-26. Unfortunately for UCSB, it was the Trojans who were able to stop the back-and-forth first, clinching the set on a Gaucho attack error.
The Trojans had all the momentum to start the third, jumping out to a 10-5 lead. UCSB would eventually get it as close as 23-21 on a Delson ace, but the Trojans answered back with two quick points to wrap up the match.
With 16 kills, Lucas Yoder was by far USC’s most productive hitter, putting down twice as many kills as any of his teammates. The Trojans hit a solid .361 in the match compared to UCSB’s .230 clip.
The Gauchos wrap up their regular season schedule with a pair of home matches against BYU, first on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. in Rob Gym and then Friday at 5 p.m. in the Thunderdome.