UCSB, Ohio State to meet in finals

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos relish the underdog role so much they've proclaimed themselves the Cinderella team of the men's volleyball postseason.

After another upset of top-ranked Southern California, the upstart Gauchos are one more win away from taking on another moniker: NCAA champions.

Cullen Irons and Dylan Davis each had 15 kills and UCSB split a rough-and-tumble first two sets with the powerhouse Trojans before pulling away in relatively easy fashion, 29-27, 24-26, 25-15 and 25-18.

The Gauchos (18-14) move on to face third-seeded Ohio State, which beat Penn State on its home floor in four sets in the late match.

"Whatever seed you give us is fine, because we know what we are and we're OK with it," UCSB coach Rick McLaughlin said about his team's underdog mentality. "We're just going to keep proving it."

Shawn Sangrey led the Buckeyes with 15 kills, including the cross-court winner that led to the team's sideline victory celebration in front of about four dozen Ohio State fans in the stands. Joe Sunder's 18 kills led the Nittany Lions.

UCSB will savor a second postseason upset of USC in six days after getting swept by the Trojans in six sets in the teams' two regular-season meetings.

Tri Bourne had 20 kills to lead USC (23-4), while Murphy Troy added 18 but had eight of USC's 20 service errors.

"We knew that we could pretty much kill them if we played like we did in the regular season," Bourne said. "It's just hard to keep the mindset that they're getting [hyped] for the game and they're not the same team we played in the regular season."

No two teams had as divergent resumes entering postseason play as USC and UCSB.

The Trojans were a preseason favorite, ranked No. 1 from wire-to-wire. The Gauchos limped into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament having lost two straight and four of their last five to fall to 14-14.

They haven't lost since. A five-set victory over USC in the conference final clinched what was once an unlikely berth to the NCAAs.

"They're a tough group of guys. They won't let this season end," McLaughlin said.

Then, UCSB drew a No. 4 seed in the tournament to set up a rematch with top seed USC.

It turned out to be an even easier win for the Gauchos, aided by the Trojans' mistakes on the serve and Davis' frontcourt play. The 6-foot-9 senior hit 88 percent on the attack.

The Buckeyes (25-6) pulled off a mild upset of their own in the nightcap, winning at stuffy Rec Hall before 3,700 fans -- mainly blue-and-white backers.

But Ohio State looked right at home, complete with red-clad fans dancing in the aisle when the school fight song was played over the sound system -- an odd sight in Happy Valley.

Edgardo Goas' kill on the second ball gave Penn State (24-7) an 18-17 lead before Ohio State got a late momentum boost, closing with a 6-1 run. Penn State had three errors during the run.

"I wish we could have found a way to put that small ball in the big square," Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said, referring to the floor. "Our unforced errors killed us tonight."

The Buckeyes closed the deciding fourth set with a similar spurt, finishing with a 5-2 run to clinch a trip to Saturday's final between two schools going for their first men's volleyball title.

"You've got the three and the four seed," Ohio State coach Pete Hanson said. "I'm not necessarily sure that we're the higher one in this one, but it's going to be a fun match."