BVB: Royals regain mojo, beat Dons to stay in title hunt

After rolling to a lopsided first-set win at San Marcos, Santa Barbara High’s boys volleyball team appeared to be on its way to wrapping up the Channel League title on Thursday.

But the Royals said, “Not so fast.”

Baker Johnson and Shane Hauschild ignited a San Marcos resurgence that got stronger and stronger, and the Royals roared back, won the next three sets and handed the Dons their first league loss, leaving the title to be decided on the last day of the season.

Hauschild pounded 22 kills and Baker put down 15 kills, leading San Marcos to a 13-25, 25-20, 25-21, 24-16 triumph at the Thunderhut.

The result leaves Santa Barbara (18-9) in first place at 6-1 going into Tuesday’s regular-season finale at 5-2 Dos Pueblos. San Marcos (18-8), also 5-2 in league, plays Buena in its last league match. If Dos Pueblos and San Marcos win, the three local schools would tie for the league championship. The league’s CIF playoff designations would then be determined by a coin flips.

Johnson, who missed last week’s Karch Kiraly Tournament of Champions because of a pulmonary issue, was cleared to play this week and his hitting and defense seemed to pump up the Royals, who were swept in their last two crosstown matches.

“He’s so solid on defense for us and he’s our primary passer, so when he’s not in our offense, our offense strains,” San Marcos coach Roger Kuntz said. “He’s our one-two punch on the other side of Shane and to not have him, we’re not the same team. To have Baker back was really special.”

Santa Barbara coach Chad Arneson recognized Johnson’s impact for the Royals.

“It’s pretty inspirational seeing Baker, I’m happy for him getting out there to play. It shows how much he wanted it for his teammates,” said Arneson

Asked about the team’s turnaround after the first set, Johnson said, “We just kind of picked ourselves up. We knew we had to do that if we wanted to win the second, third and fourth games. Our nonstarters came in and did really well and that’s what really sparked us.”

With Johnson producing on the left side, San Marcos setter Christian Widmer had his full complement of weapons, and he used them effectively. Hauschild hammered balls from the back row and the outside, Chris Newton tooled blockers on the back side and Taylor Mann and Cole Wenals scored from the middle.

“Christian Widmer set a perfect match,” raved Kuntz. “The pace he set with, the tenacity that he played with, he’s a pretty special guy. He’s a gamer, he’s a real gamer.”

Kuntz was impressed at the level his team performed after the first set.

“Santa Barbara is a great team and you have to get through them to win Channel League and we were fortunate to get one of two,” he said. “That was special, games two, three and four.”

He added: “Everything was working, and I’ve talked about trying to get to that point and we got there tonight,” he added.

Arneson credited San Marcos for its fine performance, but noted his team is still struggling to finish off matches.

“In game one, we kind of take it to them and then all of sudden it’s that old adage: ‘We can’t finish teams.’ We couldn’t get it done.

“We got to stop looking behind our shoulders and have to realize (outside hitter) Tristan (Fauntleroy) is not coming back. We have who we have. We can’t take anything for granted.”

Santa Barbara took an 8-4 lead in the second set, but San Marcos battled back. After the Dons hit a ball out, Mann had a solo block to give the Royals a 12-10 lead and they never looked back. Hauschild scored three of the last five points to even the match at one set a piece.

In the third set, Mann delivered three straight points on a kill and two blocks to open up a 23-19 advantage. Channing Peak had a kill and a block to pull Santa Barbara to 23-21, but Hauschild finished off the Dons with a hard-angle kill and a hit off the tape that couldn’t be returned.

San Marcos kept the pressure on in the fourth set and won going away. The highlight of the set for the Royals was floor-denting spike inside the 10-foot line by Hauschild to give them a 15-7 lead.

“I thought those last 10 points were the slowest points ever,” Widmer said. “I’m overwhelmed with emotion. We really stepped up and pulled together as a team.”

Cole Wenals had six kills and three blocks, all coming in the fourth set. Mann had five blocks and four kills.

Ryan Worley was Santa Barbara’s kill leader with 17, while Joe Rafferty and Peake added 10 apiece.