PALOS VERDES PENINSULA — With an opportunity to clinch a league championship and simultaneously knock out a title aspirant, the Flintridge Prep boys’ volleyball team instead was treated to a rude awakening Friday afternoon.
The reigning Prep League champion Rebels won their first two games versus host Chadwick before surrendering the next three sets and at least part of their crown in an 18-25, 23-25, 25-12, 25-19, 15-12 defeat.
With the win, Chadwick (18-4, 7-1) clinched a share of the league championship and also forced CIF Southern Section Division IV seventh-ranked Flintridge Prep (16-5, 6-1) to defeat archrival Pasadena Poly in the team’s season finale on Tuesday in order for the Rebels to salvage half the league championship.
“A loss like this is going to sting,” Flintridge Prep Coach Sean Beattie said. “If you want to be mad about it, be mad about it, but let it go at midnight because you still have another game left to go and you can still win a championship.”
Momentum was on Dolphins’ side heading into the fifth game, as Chadwick fed off the support of a boisterous crowd on senior day by taking a 10-8 lead on a kill from senior outside hitter Carter Chillingworth that perfectly split between defenders Aldridge Kim and Kyle Law in the back row.
While Flintridge Prep pulled even on a service error followed by one of sophomore outside hitter Dante Fregoso’s match-high 36 kills, Chadwick rallied.
The Dolphins scored four straight points in reaching match-point, 14-10, on an ace from sophomore Xavier Proctor.
Flintridge Prep battled back with a kill from Fregoso and a Dolphins’ attacking error to pull within 14-12.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, their title hopes were put in limbo when Dolphins junior Connor Lucier (13 kills) blasted a perfectly placed kill just inbounds to secure the victory.
“I don’t think Connor could have possibly hit the ball any harder on that kill,” Dolphins Coach Michael Cass said of his team’s comeback. “It’s just one of those things for us. There wasn’t anything said differently.
“I had the same message for the team before the match and after they dropped the first two sets. They just listened, relaxed, showed maturity, limited their mistakes and slowly came back. You can’t win three straight until you win the first game.”
About an hour earlier, it appeared the Rebels were in complete control after clinching a back-and-forth second game, 25-23.
No team had taken larger than a three-point advantage and the game was tied at 23 after a kill from Lucier.
Yet, Flintridge Prep showed an ability to close that started with a cross-court spike from Fregoso that preceded a game-winning hitting error by the Dolphins that sealed the emotional win and put the visitors ahead, 2-0.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, the victory had a draining effect, as the Dolphins raced out to an 11-3 advantage in the third game.
Flintridge Prep never closed the deficit by more than nine points in eventually falling, 25-12.
“That was our problem,” said setter Kim, who finished with 54 assists. “We fell behind too much early. We needed to do better.”
Chadwick scored the first five points of the fourth game before the Rebels pulled even with a 10-5 run fueled by a pair of kills from senior middle blocker Trip Westmoreland (10 kills and six blocks).
While the Rebels knotted the score at 10, Chadwick never allowed Flintridge Prep to jump ahead and the Dolphins eventually created some separation with a 5-1 run that gave the home team a 21-16 advantage in the fourth game en route to a 25-19 win.
“We just came out flat,” Beattie said of his team after the second-game victory. “That’s unfortunately one of the drawbacks with a young team. We’ll learn from this. It was kind of good to have a test like this before the playoffs.”
Flintridge Prep’s best game was its first one, as the Rebels utilized an 8-0 spurt to spring to a 22-14 lead that eventually translated into a 25-18 win.
Law led the Rebels with 23 digs, while Fregoso added 12 digs.
Blair Horner was one of six Dolphins to tally five or more kills and paced his side with 15 kills.
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.