Hawai’i, Long Beach win, to battle again, this time for NCAA men’s title

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Long Beach's TJ DeFalco slides in to play a ball in his team's victory over Pepperdine on Thursday/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Will men’s volleyball get another epic five-setter?

The recent past would indicate as much when top-seeded Hawai’i plays second-seeded Long Beach State for the NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball championship on Saturday.

Hawai’i, the Big West winner, beat MIVA-champion Lewis in four in the first semifinal Thursday and then Long Beach, the Big West runner-up, swept MPSF-champion Pepperdine before an announced crowd of 3,778 in the Pyramid.

And now the recent past looms large in the title-match future as the top two teams all season face off for a fourth match, in this case at 5 p.m. Pacific on ESPN2.

A photo gallery of Thursday’s action follows.

Defending-champion Long Beach (27-2) and Hawai’i (28-2) met three times this year:

In back-to-back matches to end the Big West season in this same building, Long Beach State won in five both nights. Then in the conference tournament final, Hawai’i, playing at home before more than 10,000 fans, the Rainbow Warriors won in five.

Hawaii 3, Lewis 1: Colton Cowell had 15 kills, hit .481, and had four digs and two assists in the Rainbow Warriors’ 25-15, 25-17, 30-32, 25-16 victory.

Hawai’i hit .386 while holding Lewis to a .221 attack percentage, with a huge blocking advantage. Hawai’i had 22 blocks assists and three solos, while Lewis had nine block assists.

Stijn van Tilburg added 11 kills, two assists, three of his team’s 10 aces, four digs and six of those blocks. Rado Parapunov had 11 kills, two aces, three digs and five blocks. And Patrick Gasman had eight kills, hit .583, a dig and eight blocks, one solo. Setter Joe Worsley had a kill to go with his 38 assists, two aces, 10 digs and three blocks, one solo.

“We wanted to stay aggressive, I think we backed off a little bit there and again, a lot of credit to Lewis because they got a really nice rhythm,” Hawai’i coach Charlie Wade said.

“I think they hit close to .500  in that (third) set. There’s such a small difference, margin of error between teams at this level that you just have to stay competitive and stay aggressive.”

Lewis faced set and match point six times before finally sending the match to a fourth set.

“They came out and jumped on us,” Lewis’ Mitch Perinar said. Hawai’i led 9-7 before pulling away.

Ryan Coenen led Lewis, which ended it season 26-6, with 18 kills but hit .182. He aded nine digs and two blocks. Perinar had 13 kills, seven digs and two blocks, and Tyler Mitchem had 12 kills, hit .526, and had his team’s only ace (against 19 errors) to go with two digs and two blocks.

Hawai’i, Lewis coach Dan Friend said, “played a fantastic match.”

Long Beach 3, Pepperdine 1: TJ DeFalco had 17 kills and hit .333 n the 49ers’ 25-21, 21-25, 16-25, 15-25 victory.

“We’re excited to get the opportunity to play for a national championship here in Long Beach against a really good Hawaii team we went the distance with every time we played them,” Long Beach coach Alan Knipe said.

Long Beach, while hitting . 461, held Pepperdine to a .168 attack percentage. What’s more, the Waves had just four block assists and they were all in the first set, while Long Beach had 24 blocks assists and two solos.

DeFalco added five digs, five blocks and had an assist to go with two of Long Beach’s 10 aces.

“What I saw tonight is what I’ve seen for the better part of four years. He’s a huge part of a very talented team,” Knipe said. “Every team has kind of their star power or their guy, and TJ is the straw that stirs the drink for us.”

Nick Amado had nine kills in 11 errorless swings and hit .818 to go with two digs and two blocks. Simon Anderson had seven kills with no errors in nine attacks and hit .778 and added two digs and six blocks, and Ethan Siegfried had seven kills in 17 errorless swings to hit .412. He had five digs, two blocks and an ace.

Kyle Ensing had six kills and hit just .143, but had six aces, nine digs and two blocks. Setter Josh Tuaniga had a kill, 42 assists, three digs and five blocks.

Pepperdine, which ended its season 23-7, was making its first NCAA appearance since 2008.

Michael Wexter led the Waves with 12 kills, three aces of Pepperdine’s nine aces and eight digs but hit .172.

David Wieczorek had eight kills but hit just .080 and had four service errors with no aces. Kaleb Denmark also had eight kills with two aces and four digs.

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