LONG BEACH, Calif. - Cal State Northridge knew its final six matches of the regular season would be a stiff challenge. Not only were all six matches on the road but four were against teams ranked among the top-six in the nation.
The grueling stretch culminated with a straight-set sweep at the hands of No. 2 Long Beach State on Saturday. Set scores from the Walter Pyramid were 25-14, 25-21, 25-23.
After opening the season-ending road swing with a 3-0 win at No. 6 Stanford on Mar. 29, the Matadors dropped their final five matches but still had a chance to reach the MPSF Tournament for the 11th time in the last 12 years even after losing to Long Beach State.
However CSUN's longest losing streak since 2011 proved to be one loss too many as Hawai'i passed the Matadors to grab the eighth and final MPSF Tournament spot on the final night of the regular season.
"We've made the playoffs 11 out of the last 12 years, so this is an unusual thing for our team," said Matador head coach Jeff Campbell. "It's disappointing from that perspective but we'll learn from this season and we'll get better. We've got some good young players in this program and we've got some good recruits coming in so the future is very bright for us."
Against the 49ers on Saturday, junior Brandon Lebrock led CSUN with 14 kills (.258) after coming off the bench in set one. Senior John Baker added nine kills (.333), three digs and two blocks in what turned out to be the final match of his Matador career. Fellow seniors Jared Moore and Drew Staker also played their final match on Saturday.
As was the case in each of the last three matches, the Matadors were forced to play from behind for much of the night. Set one wasn't close as the 49ers bolted out to an early 9-3 lead and never looked back. Both the second and third sets were tight as set two was tied eight times and the lead changed hands on three occasions.
In the second set, with the score knotted at 20-20, the 49ers got back-to-back kills from Taylor Crabb and Taylor Gregory before Long Beach stuffed Baker's attack and the 23-20 lead proved too much for the Matadors to overcome.
CSUN trailed by just two at 22-20 following a Baker kill in set three before the 49ers went up by three after a Gregory kill. Baker answered again to keep the Matadors within two (23-21) but Kyle Stevenson's attack went long setting Long Beach up with match point at 24-21. A 49er service error kept Northridge in it and Lebrock put away a ball on the ensuing point and the Matadors were within 24-23. But Long Beach cashed in on its next match point when Ian Satterfield's attack landed just inside the court.
Northridge closes the 2013 season at 11-15 overall and 9-15 in the MPSF. Long Beach State (22-7, 18-6 MPSF) earned the number three seed in the confernce tournament which gets underway next week.
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