LONG BEACH, Calif. – Despite taking a 2-1 lead, UCSB could not capture the elusive match clinching game as Long Beach State successfully defended its home court in the five-set victory.
With final scores of 25-14, 18-25, 20-25, 25-21, and 16-14, the Gauchos came up just short in a match that would have given them the conference title.
UCSB is still in the driver's seat to win the Big West, though, as a victory at UC Irvine tomorrow night will give the team the conference championship and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
"It was a hard fought match and I give credit to Long Beach for making one more play than we did," UCSB Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. "We did a lot of good things on the court tonight and there were some things we wish we could have back. Fortunately, we get to compete on the court again tomorrow."
Ali Spindt had a standout performance, as she swung for 17 kills and led UCSB with a career-high 20 digs. It was the freshman's 12th double double of the season.
Leading the Gauchos in kills was Jaylen Villanueva who came off the bench to connect for 20 kills on the evening. The sophomore hit at an outstanding .421 clip and also added four block assists.
Leah Sully scooped up 19 digs and now just sits 11 shy of becoming the program's all-time digs leader. The senior will look to pass up UCSB great Kristin Nelson in her pursuit for dig number 1712 on Saturday night.
Indicative of what was a tightly contested matchup, the Big West rivals took the match down to the wire in a nail biting 16-14 fifth set finish.
In the decisive game, LBSU took the 8-6 lead when the teams switched sides of the court, securing five of the previous six points.
The set was kept tight, as LBSU never relinquished their lead despite the Gauchos tying the score on three separate occasions.
With the game tied at 10, the 49ers made their move and recorded three kills to reach match point at 14-11.
However, the Gauchos denied them the match clinching play three straight times and forced extra points. Katey Thompson stepped up in the crucial moment for UCSB, as she accounted for two kills in the 3-0 run.
The senior finished the match with 13 kills.
Long Beach State later responded with a pair of kills of their own to end the match and completed the 3-2 win.
In the first set, the 49ers controlled the Gaucho offense as they put up eight total blocks en route to a 25-14 game victory.
UCSB was quick to adjust to Long Beach State's play at the net, as the Gauchos threw down 15 kills in the second set and were only blocked once. Leading Santa Barbara in the game was Villanueva who had five kills.
Sully sealed the second for UCSB at the service line, as she dealt the 49ers back-to-back service aces to capture the 25-18 win.
The Gauchos took the third set after storming out to an early 5-2 lead. Spindt recorded a pair of kills in that stretch, while Phoebe Grunt and Villanueva combined for a block.
The 49ers would battle back later in the set, as they took the 16-14 lead. But with a 7-2 run, UCSB regained control at 22-18 when the Gaucho offense yielded five straight kills.
UCSB's opposite hitter Villanueva and Thompson closed out the set as they put up consecutive kills to get set point. A 49er attacking error would give the Gauchos the 25-20 decision.
In the fourth, Long Beach State took an early 10-6 advantage and never gave up its lead. Down 22-16, UCSB rattled off a 5-2 run in a late comeback attempt, but the 49ers' hot start proved too much as LBSU was able to force the fifth set.
The Gauchos' will continue their mission to earn their first Big West title since 2005 tomorrow night at UC Irvine. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Bren Events Center.