Orange County: Laguna Beach wins third title

IRVINE -- The screams of Lance Stewart, aimed at his Laguna Beach players, could be heard over the din inside the gymnasium at Irvine Valley College. Stewart made an impassioned plea for this side to play with emotion.

And they did.

Down two games to one, top-seeded Laguna Beach stormed back from a five-point deficit in the fourth game to beat second-seeded San Diego Francis Parker, 25-14, 17-25, 25-20, 25-22, 15-6.

It is the third consecutive Division III Southern California Regional Championship for Laguna Beach (23-11), which got 26 kills from Robbie McKnight. Parker finished 16-17.

It was the first time this season Laguna Beach had played a five-game match, but the Breakers never trailed in the decisive game.

“I like to see some emotion, I’m a football guy,” Stewart said. “In football, you can show your emotion physically. We weren’t making plays. I think they responded. We started blocking some balls and hitting some serves.“

After trailing in the fourth game, 17-12, Laguna Beach outscored Parker 28-11. The unforced errors disappeared, and it was Parker that tightened up.

Much of the credit goes to Colin Ceithami, who had no fewer the four blocks the rest of the way, as well as Alek Burk, who finished with 10 kills, McKnight. Troy Donenfeld, who had 17 digs, served four straight points to give Laguna Beach a 20-18 lead in Game 4, and Ceithami’s block closed it out, 25-22.

Laguna Beach’s first three points of the fifth game came on Parker service errors. Leading 4-3, consecutive kills by McKnight provided some breathing room, and a pair of kills by Burk and another by Ceithami made it 9-5.

The Breakers closed out the match from 11-6 on McKnight’s block, Austin HIlleman’s consecutive kills, and Francis Parker’s hitting error.

“We didn’t play defense the first three games,” Stewart said. “They got hot and we were on our heels. We needed to take a deep breath.”

They did. And they let out a winning sigh of relief.