LOS ANGELES — All-American Kevin Tillie had a match-high 21 kills and hit .500 as top-seeded UC Irvine defeated No. 4 seed Penn State 3-1 (18-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-19) in a semifinal match of the NCAA Championships on Thursday night at the Galen Center.
Tillie also added an ace, eight digs and tied Scott Kevorken for the team lead in blocks with three. Connor Hughes added 10 kills, while opposite Carson Clark fired a season-high five aces and knocked down nine kills. Libero Michael Brinkley posted a career-high 15 digs, while middle blocker Dan McDonnell added seven kills.
The Anteaters recorded nine aces and hit .351 (53-13-114), while Penn State — the nation’s best serving team — had five aces and hit .246 (48-19-118).
Nick Goodell and Joe Sunder each recorded 15 kills to lead Penn State (23-6). Aaron Russell contributed 10 kills in the loss.
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UCI held a 6-3 lead in the first set before Penn State went on a 6-1 run to take the 9-7 lead. UCI would never tie or lead the rest of the set. UCI, the nation’s best hitting team, hit .100 (10-7-30).
Carson Clark started serving in the second set and fired two aces to help the Anteaters jump out to a 6-2 lead. The Nittany Lions had three consecutive hitting errors to extend the UCI advantage to 11-5. Setter Chris Austin took a swing for a kill that was followed by a kill by Connor Hughes to push the margin to 17-11. Kills by Clark and Kevin Tillie ended the set 25-18. Hughes had five kills in the set.
In the third set, UCI scored four unanswered on a kill by Clark, two kills from Hughes and an ace by Dan McDonnell to take the 14-7 lead. Three consecutive kills by Clark, Tillie and McDonnell gave UCI the 20-10 advantage. The Anteaters would go on to a 25-15 victory.
Penn State used two Anteater attack errors and a kill to open a 6-3 lead in the fourth set. UCI closed to 6-5 on a Scott Kevorken kill in the middle, but Penn State answered with three consecutive kills to extend the gap to 9-5. Setter Daniel Stork stepped in with the ‘Eaters trailing 12-6.
The Nittany Lions led 15-11 before UCI went on a 6-2 run which was capped by a Tillie solo block to knot the score at 17-17. PSU scored the next point then a Nittany Lion service error and two Tillie kills plus a PSU ball that went into the net put UCI ahead 21-18. Two more Penn State attack errors gave the Anteaters match point which Tillie delivered, 25-19.
The Anteaters will be seeking their third national title after winning the 2007 and 2009 championships.