No. 2 Long Beach State (10-2, 6-1) was a force to be reckoned with on Friday as they came into the Bren Events Center and dispatched the ‘Eaters 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-16) in a match that never felt close.
UCI had trouble containing the balanced 49er attack as every significant battle went Long Beach’s way, including the visitors hitting a whopping .469 to a paltry .196 for the home team. Long Beach dominated the net by out-blocking the ‘Eaters 10.5-3.0 and out-digging them 32-30.
Although the ‘Eaters lead the conference in service aces, they failed to register one while the 49ers notched four.
Seniors Thomas Hodges and Tamir Hershko led UCI with ten and nine kills respectively, while fellow senior Michael Saeta notched 26 set assists to go with three kills and a team high six digs.
The two teams felt each other out in the early going before Long Beach took the momentum, taking six of seven points to acquire a 12-7 lead, capitalizing on a slew of ‘Eater errors that ultimately led to a timeout by head coach David Kniffin.
“We needed to go out and be confident in our game and confident that our game can win, and I just wasn’t seeing that,” said Kniffin.
A kill by Hershko and an attack error on Long Beach narrowed the deficit to two at 18-16, but the 49ers were able to take advantage of more miscues from the ‘Eaters and some kills of their own to take the first set 25-19.
UCI played their most inspired ball in the second set, trading points with Long Beach throughout, and back-to-back kills by Hershko and senior Andrew Benz knotted the score at 19-19 before three ‘Eater service errors helped the Beach to close out 25-22 and take a two set lead.
Long Beach wasted no time and quickly jumped out to a 6-2 advantage in a third set that they led from wire-to-wire. The ‘Eaters hung tough and clawed their way back to come within two points at 16-14, but the 49ers held their composure and hung on for the win by ripping off six in a row and nine of the last 11 to take the set and the match 25-16.
Containing a stout Long Beach squad was a tall order, and without executing their game plan correctly the ‘Eaters knew they would have their hands full.
“We knew we were going in against an offensive team,” said Kniffin, “What we needed to do was slow down their offense and elevate the level of our offense and neither one of those happened tonight so you end up with a huge gap, huge disparity in the efficiencies.”
UCI moves to 5-4 in the MPSF and 8-5 overall, as they prepared to face another ranked conference foe in CSUN at the Bren a day later.