IRVINE, Calif. – After making a gutsy comeback in the fourth set, UCSB could not finish UC Irvine in the fifth, as the Anteaters defended their home floor in a 3-2 decision.
"Tonight was a hard fought match," UCSB Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. "We played very well at times but when we were bad, we were just giving them too many free points."
Santa Barbara's record falls to 7-8 and is now 2-2 in conference play, while Irvine improves to 11-7 on the season and 1-3 in the Big West.
Three Gauchos led the team in kills, as Ali Barbeau, Chanel Hoffman, and Jaylen Villanueva each recorded 14 kills. Villanueva reached season-highs in two categories with her kills total and seven digs.
Defensively, Phoebe Grunt had five total blocks with Hoffman adding four of her own, while four Gauchos each picked up double-digit figures in digs. Ali Spindt put up the most with 19, Santi trailed her with 12, and Barbeau and Hanna Nielson each added 11.
In the first set, UCSB came out on top in a gritty 25-23 battle. While Irvine got Marisa Bubica involved early with a kill on the first play, UCSB responded with a Britton Taylor kill for the 1-1 tie. The teams went back and forth in dealing serves, but the Gauchos would take an early three-point lead after they strung together four unanswered points after being down 3-2.
Hoffman started the run with her first kill of the night and went on to register an ace just two plays later. Adding to UCSB's early offensive burst was Grunt who recorded a block solo and block assists with Villanueva during the run.
UCSB held its lead until the Anteaters took off on a 4-0 run of their own to pull ahead at 17-15. However, their streak would end abruptly with a service error from Cassidy Pickrell.
From there, the Gauchos climbed back and snatched the lead thanks to a Barbeau kill that put them ahead 21-20. UC Irvine used their first timeout of the game following the play, but it did not put them back on track, as UCSB forced Pickrell into an attacking error, which then gave them a two-point advantage.
UCSB found itself with set point at 24-21, but the Anteaters held on for two more plays and stayed in contention at 24-23. Stepping up with the game-clinching point was Taylor who spoiled their comeback by hammering home a kill, giving UCSB the 1-0 advantage.
UC Irvine would even the score with a 25-23 win of their own in the second game, as the teams competed in yet another tightly contested set. UCSB started things off with three straight points, as Taylor swung for a kill in the opening point. From there Barbeau added an ace, and Sullberg and Taylor combined for a block.
The Anteaters answered back in a big way, as they took the lead at 8-4 but would squander it away with a plethora of errors. UCSB capitalized on Irvine's mistakes and took an 11-9 lead. Villanueva caught fire during the run with a pair of kills, while Grunt and Hoffman out together a block.
From there, the teams swapped points until Irvine recorded consecutive kills in breaking a 23-23 tie.
Irvine then took game three with a 25-14 score seemingly carrying the match's momentum heading into the fourth, but the Gauchos put together a gallant comeback to force a game five. The Anteaters would take the early 15-10 advantage, but the Gauchos later made their move with a match-saving 10-3 rally.
UCSB was given the serve after a UCI error and Barbeau ignited the scoring run with consecutive kills. The Gauchos then saw big plays from their defense,as Grunt and Hoffman crowded the net with consecutive blocks to retake the lead at 19-18. In capping off the run, Villanueva put in a thundering kill, as the Gauchos hit the 20-point mark.
Playing a role in pulling off the comeback was Kristen Berlo who made her UCSB debut with four kills. The redhsirt freshman provided a much needed boost off the bench for the Gauchos in the fourth when she connected on two kills in four plays.
"We received a big spark from Berlo, who is finally back from injury for the first time in her career," Lantagne Welch said. "We had a huge comeback in the fourth set, but unfortunately we needed to execute a few more plays at key times."
In closing out the set, UCSB relied on their attackers who came up with four kills during that stretch. Barbeau led the team with a pair of kills, including the game-clincher, while Villanueva and Hoffman added one each.
Despite the comeback, UC Irvine was able to pull off the win in front of its home crowd with a 15-9 final in the fifth.
UCSB will look to bounce back tomorrow night when they Cal State Fullerton at Titan Gym at 7 p.m.