SBCC falls to Santa Monica, but clinches home playoff berth

SBCC dropped a tight first set on Wednesday night in its regular-season men’s volleyball home finale and never recovered in a 3-1 setback to Santa Monica. The scores were 25-22, 18-25, 25-21, 25-22.

Justin Hertlein had 18 kills, hit .306 and recorded five blocks for the second-place Vaqueros (9-7, 6-3 WSC), who had their five-match winning streak snapped. Kyle Benskin had 12 kills and hit .556 while 6-7 middle Cody Zoesch hit .500 with no errors and four blocks.

That trio was part of a seven-player sophomore class that was honored before the match.

SBCC was coming off a stirring 3-2 upset at first-place Long Beach City last Wednesday. Santa Monica (5-11, 3-6) also beat Long Beach, giving the Corsairs wins over the top two WSC teams in the last six days.

“We couldn’t get the ball to our middles,” said first-year SBCC coach Armen Zakarian. “We couldn’t pass the ball and they were serving tough, which is exactly what they did to beat Long Beach.

“This was probably our worst defensive match of the year. We didn’t have any kind of pursuit. … It was tough to watch but you can‘t be perfect every game.”

Despite the loss, SBCC clinched the No. 2 spot in the WSC and will host a first-round state playoff match on Monday, April 18 at 6 p.m. They’ll face the third-place team from the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference, probably Irvine Valley.

Santa Barbara could tie for the WSC title if it wins at Moorpark on Friday and Long Beach loses to L.A. Pierce.

There were 12 ties in the first set before the Corsairs scored the final five points to pull out the 25-22 win. SBCC bolted to leads of 9-1 and 20-9 in the second set before winning 25-18.

Santa Monica regained the momentum in the third set, jumping ahead 9-5 and 14-7 before Hertlein scored two straight points on a kill and a roof block. The Vaqueros got as close as three points (21-18) on the way to a four-point loss.

SBCC led 14-13 in the fourth set on a re-directed kill by Benskin but the visitors went on a late 5-0 run to take a 21-17 lead. The Vaqueros cut the deficit to one (23-22) before the Corsairs closed out the match.

“I don’t have an answer for you tonight,” said Zakarian. “It was definitely an oddity in my eyes.”