The UC Irvine men's volleyball team shook its late-season slump to handle visiting UCLA in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament quarterfinal on Saturday at the Bren Events Center.
The win ended the season for the No. 5-ranked and No. 5-seeded Bruins, whose coach, Al Scates, retires after 50 seasons and 19 NCAA titles.
The win also propels the No. 2-ranked and No. 4-seeded Anteaters (22-5) into the conference tournament semifinals against No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded USC on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at USC's Galen Center.
UCI defeated the Trojans (23-4) in four games at home on Jan. 27, but lost in four at USC on April 7.
USC eliminated UCI in last year's MPSF Tournament semifinals at the Galen Center, but UCI defeated the Trojans in the 2009 NCAA title match at BYU.
UCI Coach John Speraw believes USC, led by MPSF Player of the Year Tony Ciarelli and on an 18-match winning streak, still has something to prove this season. The Trojans' last loss was Feb. 3 to UCLA and their string of victories includes 13 sweeps.
"USC has had a great season," Speraw said. "They have a lot of Final Four experience and they have played without any pressure, which is a deadly combination."
Most of the pressure resides with UCI on Thursday. Should they lose, the Trojans, having secured the MPSF regular-season title, are the odds-on choice to receive the lone at-large berth into the four-team NCAA championships that will be played in their arena on May 3 and May 5.
UCI could earn an automatic NCAA berth by winning the tournament. A loss to USC would not leave the Anteaters out of the loop, however, depending on what happened the rest of the tournament.
Speraw administered high praise to UCLA senior setter Kyle Caldwell, a Newport Harbor High product, after Saturday's win.
"UCLA is a very unique team," Speraw said. "They have the most dominant offensive setter in maybe the history of the game [the 6-foot-9 Caldwell]. He is so offensive and that forces you to dedicate a blocker to the setter, which normally you never have to do. Even when you do, he still hits for such range."
Caldwell, a first-team All-MPSF performer, had 33 assists, three kills and three block assists in his final collegiate match.
Orange Coast College came up short in the California Community College Athletic Assn. men's volleyball state championship match on Saturday, won by host Long Beach City.
OCC has now lost its last seven title-match appearances and has nine state runner-up showings.
The Pirates claimed the last of the school's five state crowns in 1994.
Among OCC's seven starters Saturday were sophomores Michael Ensign, a Corona del Mar High product, Chris Van Vuuren and Michael Lakin.
Ensign, a 6-foot-5 setter, is fielding offers from Division I schools, OCC Coach Travis Turner said.
Lakin, a 6-2 outside hitter, will play next season at UC San Diego, while Van Vuuren, a springy 6-5 outside hitter, is deciding between UCI, Hawaii and Long Beach State, Turner said.
Significant freshmen contributors for OCC this season were Newport Harbor High products Austin Babgy and Rusty Sary, as well as opposite and CdM alumnus John Christian.
It appears now that the UCI baseball team (20-16, 5-7 in the Big West Conference and residing in seventh place), has dug too big a hole for it to extend its streak of reaching the NCAA regionals to seven consecutive seasons.
The Anteaters have lost three straight three-game conference series for the first time since 2003. They had not lost three conference series since 2005.
The OCC baseball team can clinch the outright Orange Empire Conference title on Tuesday at Irvine Valley (2 p.m.). Coach John Altobelli's Pirates have a two-game lead over Santa Ana with two games left.
OCC (29-4-1) ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 1 in one national poll, has won five straight and 13 of its last 14.
The Pirates appear to have dodged a bullet when sophomore outfielder Chris Carlson's X-rays proved negative after he left Thursday's game after fouling a ball off his instep.
Carlson, an OEC MVP candidate, is hitting .440 with seven homers, 42 runs batted in and 11 stolen bases.
Former UCI pitcher Bryce Stowell has generated national interest with his hot start at Double-A Akron, a Cleveland Indians' affiliate in the Eastern League.
In four relief appearances, Stowell has 15 strikeouts in seven innings, while allowing only three hits and no runs. Opponents are hitting .130 against him.
In six stops in 2010 and 2011 combined, he amassed 159 strikeouts in 106 innings. He allowed 63 hits and just 25 earned runs (a 2.12 earned-run average).
The UC Irvine women's water polo team closed out a perfect Big West Conference regular season to earn the top seed in the conference tournament, Friday through Sunday at UC Davis.
Coach Dan Klatt's Anteaters are 22-6, 5-0 in conference. They will meet either No. 4-seeded Cal State Northridge (17-19) or No. 5-seeded Long Beach State (11-16) in a semifinal Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
The title match is scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m.
UC Davis (17-12) is the No. 2 seed and UC Santa Barbara (19-13) is the No. 3 seed.
The Anteaters are led by junior attacker Jessy Cardey (58 goals and 29 assists), sophomore Hannah Croghan (45 goals, 33 assists and 29 steals), sophomore Danielle Warde (60 steals, 34 goals and 28 assists), and senior Katie Croghan (31 goals and 26 assists).
Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun