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UCSB

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos relish the underdog role so much they’ve proclaimed themselves the Cinderella team of the men’s volleyball postseason.

After another upset of top-ranked Southern California, the upstart Gauchos are one more win away from taking on another moniker: NCAA champions.

Cullen Irons and Dylan Davis each had 15 kills and UCSB split a rough-and-tumble first two sets with the powerhouse Trojans before pulling away in relatively easy fashion, 29-27, 24-26, 25-15 and 25-18.

“Whatever seed you give us is fine. Because we know what we are and we’re OK with it,” UCSB coach Rick McLaughlin said about his team’s underdog mentality. “We’re just going to keep proving it.”

The Gauchos (18-14) move on to face Ohio State in the national championship match.

First though, UCSB will savor a second postseason upset of USC in six days after getting swept by the Trojans in six sets in the teams’ two regular season meetings.

Tri Bourne had 20 kills to lead USC (23-4), while Murphy Troy added 18 but had eight of USC’s 20 service errors.

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“We knew that we could pretty much kill them if we played like we did in the regular season,” Bourne said. “It’s just hard to keep the mindset that they’re getting (hyped) for the game and they’re not the same team we played in the regular season.”

No two teams had as divergent resumes entering postseason play as USC and UCSB.

The Trojans were a preseason favorite, ranked No. 1 from wire-to-wire. The Gauchos limped into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament having lost two in a row and four of its last five to fall to 14-14.

They haven’t lost since. A five-set victory against USC in the conference final clinched what was once an unlikely berth to the NCAAs.

“They’re a tough group of guys. They won’t let this season end,” McLaughlin said.

Then, UCSB drew a No. 4 seed in the tournament to set up a rematch with top seed USC.

It turned out to be an even easier win for the Gauchos, aided by the Trojans’ mistakes on the serve and Davis’ frontcourt play. The 6-foot-9 senior hit 88 percent on the attack.