CHICAGO -- Cody Caldwell ripped a career-high 24 kills and Dainis Berzins slammed four of his season-high 13 kills in the decisive fifth set as top-ranked Loyola rallied from an 2-0 hole in a stirring 3-2 (23-25, 23-25, 25-16, 25-22, 16-14) victory against No. 12 Ball State on Thursday at Gentile Arena. The Ramblers improve to 20-1 (10-0 MIVA) with their 18th consecutive victory while the second-place Cardinals slip to 17-6 (6-3).
Loyola scored three of the first four points of the final set, taking a 3-1 lead on a Joe Smalzer ace. Ball State answered with the next two to pull even and a BSU service error and block from Owen McAndrews and Smalzer gave the Ramblers an 8-7 lead at the changeover. An ace from Berzins extended the LU lead to two (9-7) and Olson put away an overpass later to make it a 12-9 lead. The Cardinals scored the next two points to get back within one and the visitors eventually pulled even at 13 on a Kevin Owens kill. A Berzins kill gave the Ramblers their first match point and, after a Larry Wrather kill, Berzins struck again to give Loyola another chance with a 15-14 lead and the hosts would cash in, courtesy of a BSU error to complete the comeback.
It took plenty of work just to get to a fifth set as Ball State used a 6-0 run to turn a 6-6 tie into a 12-6 lead in the opening set. Despite being out of sorts, consecutive aces from McAndrews made it a 13-11 game as Loyola tried to hang around. Back-to-back Ball State errors later actually pulled the Ramblers even at 20 but the guests edged out to a 22-20 lead and managed to hang on, with a Loyola error giving BSU a 25-23 victory.
The Ramblers raced out to a 10-6 lead in the second set after a Berzins ace and a McAndrews kill but Ball State would rally. Three consecutive points made it an 18-all score and the Cardinals took their first lead of the set, 23-22, on a Graham McIlvaine kill. The teams traded points to 24-23 when Loyola sent another one wide to give Ball State a 25-23 lead and a 2-0 lead in the match. The most efficient hitting team in the nation, Loyola struggled to a .146 hitting percentage through the opening two frames.
The third set was close in the early going before three consecutive BSU errors helped Loyola to an 11-8 lead. It was a five-point margin (14-9) after a Berzins ace and the Ramblers would close with a flourish, scoring seven of the last eight points and closing out a 25-16 win with a block from McAndrews and Berzins.
Buoyed by that win, Loyola used kills from Caldwell, McAndrews and Olson to race out to a 5-1 lead in the fourth set. Ball State managed to stem the tide and began to cut into the deficit, drawing within a point at 11-10 and eventually catching the Ramblers at 12 on a Shane Witmer kill. Loyola never fell behind and opened up a 19-16 lead after a Smalzer kill. However, the Cardinals would not go away and they got back within one (22-21) again after another Witmer put-away. However, kills from Caldwell and Smalzer accounted for the final two points as LU managed to even the match and set up the fifth-set heroics.
Caldwell, the reigning MIVA Offensive Player of the Week, continued his torrid play, finishing with career-bests of 24 kills and 16 digs (26.5 points) to lead the way. McAndrews added a career-best 14 kills while Berzins added seven digs, three blocks and four aces to his 13 kills. Smalzer had an up-and-down night but still racked up a double-double with 13 kills, 12 digs, four blocks and two aces.
Peter Hutz finished with 62 assists and nine digs as Loyola rebounded to hit .382 in the last three sets to finish the match at a .265 efficiency. Owens and Witmer led Ball State with 12 kills apiece.