IRVINE, Calif. –- After trailing 2-0 in the match, No. 2 BYU won three consecutive sets to capture a thrilling 3-2 victory against No. 1 UC Irvine (22-25, 24-26, 25-23, 25-23, 15-11) on the road Friday.
“I was proud of the way the entire team battled,” BYU head coach Chris McGown said. “I saw a side of our guys [Friday] that I don’t know if I’ve seen before. They’ve just become these warriors.”
The win snaps the Anteaters’ (15-4, 12-4 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) nation-leading 11-match win streak that started after UCI’s previous loss at BYU (12-3, 11-2 MPSF) on Jan. 18.
Freshman Ben Patch shined for the Cougars with a career-high 35 kills, also setting a new BYU kills record in the rally scoring era and a single-match kills record for this season in the MPSF. Patch led the squad with a .375 attack and added eight digs and five blocks.
Sophomore Josue Rivera joined Patch in double-digit kills with 12. Senior Russ Lavaja led BYU with eight blocks.
The Cougars edged out the Anteaters in hitting with a .241 clip to UCI’s .234. BYU recorded 63 kills to UCI’s 57 but the Anteaters took the block battle 17 – 14.
“It was not a tactically, beautiful match,” McGown said. “It was mostly grinding out and finding ways to score some points and hanging in there. We were down a bit and just kept sticking with it.”
In the decisive fifth set, BYU kept the momentum in its favor and took an early 4-1 lead behind kills from Rivera and Patch. The Cougars maintained the lead and never looked back as they moved in front 12-6. The Anteaters brought it within three, 14-11, but it wasn’t enough as the Cougars secured the 15-11 final, and match victory.
Patch started the Cougars off strong in the first set with three of BYU’s first four points. UCI capitalized on a Cougar error to take its first lead of the night, 13-12. The Anteaters continued the momentum and went on a 4-0 run until a kill by Rivera halted the effort. A BYU block put the Cougars within one before an extended rally ended in BYU’s favor and tied the contest at 18. The teams exchanged points until the Anteaters pulled ahead and took the set 25-22. Patch had eight kills in the first set with a .462 attack to lead both teams.
After starting out on top 3-2, the Cougars surrendered six in a row, including three services aces from Kevin Tille, for an 8-3 UCI lead. UCI remained in control and stretched its lead to 20-14. BYU wouldn’t go down without a fight and pieced together its own run to move within one, 21-20. Down 23-21, kills from Patch and Lavaja tied the contest. With set point on the line for UCI, an attack error put BYU back in it but the Anteaters converted on their second set point to take a 2-0 match lead after the 26-24 set win.
BYU kicked off the third game in front 5-1 but UCI rallied for a 7-7 tie before flipping the score its way 9-8. The Anteaters pulled ahead 14-8 before Patch ended the 6-0 run. After trailing 19-14, the Cougars cut the lead to one. BYU tied the set at 21 before going up 23-22 for its first lead since the initial points of the set. On their second set point, Patch closed out the set for the Cougars 25-23. BYU recorded a match-best .448 clip in the set to force a fourth.
The teams traded points in the fourth for a 6-6 tie before the Anteaters grabbed an 11-8 control. UCI was unable to hold off the Cougars as BYU worked to create multiple ties and eventually took the 18-17 lead. After a tie at 22-22, a pair of attack errors by UCI positioned BYU with its first of two set points. The Cougars forced a fifth set after Rivera wrapped up the fourth with a kill for the 25-23 score.