April 26, 2012
LOS ANGELES - Eric Mochalski served an ace on the sixth match point to give Stanford a 25-21, 17-25, 25-19, 35-33 victory over BYU in the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament on Thursday at USC’s Galen Center.
Stanford coach John Kosty said the final set will go down in “MPSF lore,” and it got the Cardinal (22-6) into the final Saturday at 7 p.m. at the same site against UC Irvine, an upset winner over No. 1-ranked USC, 24-26, 23-25, 25-16, 28-26, 15-9.
“When you put the top four teams in the country into a tournament at the end of a season, you know you’re going to have a barnburner,” Kosty said. “We have a term that we use – 'grind it out' — and we definitely grinded out that match tonight.”
The Cardinal, the No. 3-ranked team and the No. 2 seed in the tournament, may have assured itself of at least an NCAA at-large berth if regular-season champion USC had won. Instead, Stanford now appears to require a championship victory to advance over USC, which beat the Cardinal in both season meetings. UCI (23-5), the No. 2-ranked team and No. 4 seed, split its matchups with Stanford.
On Thursday, Stanford was led by a balanced offense that featured Brad Lawson (17 kills), Brian Cook (16), and Steven Irvin (12) as Stanford overcame five BYU set points in the fourth – the latest at 31-30.
“We knew that the pressure was on them,” Stanford libero Erik Shoji said. “Especially being up 2-1, pressure is all on them to win that game and get those points. For us, I thought we were pretty loose -- we’re smiling on the court, we’re still celebrating our points. That’s how we play.”
The final set featured 28 tie scores and 16 lead changes. Finally, with the score tied at 33-33, Irvin
blocked Robb Stowell’s attack for the go-ahead point, setting up Mochalski’s winner.
“For the most part, it was just focusing on the next play, because there’s nothing you can do about the last play,” Kosty said. “Taylor Sander stepped up and had some big kills, big swings. He took some risks and they paid off for him. On the other side, we did too. Mo hitting a good solid serve into the gap that got that final ace was. It took him being in the moment and really focused in on the task he needed to do.”
Lawson, who earlier in the day received his third AVCA first-team All-America selection, had eight kills in the final set and Cook had six. Taylor Sander had a match-high 27 kills for BYU (24-7), the No. 3 seed and No. 4-ranked team.
Shoji, the first-ever AVCA four-time first-team All-America, had 15 digs, including a classic one to finish off the third set. On one knee, Shoji took the best 6-foot-8 All-America Futi Tavana had to offer, and passed it perfectly to Evan Barry, who set Lawson for a strike off the block for the winner.
“When it comes right down to it, in matches like that, you need to have a tight team,” Stanford senior middle blocker Gus Ellis said. “We’re a team that is very close. We play with a lot of synergy on the court, and we show that synergy also off the court. We happen to all live together, spend most of our time together, and when it comes down to crunch-time situations, we can rely on each other. And we showed that tonight.”