With an MPSF playoff spot all but locked up but with the pesky Waves not wanting to go down without a fight in the fourth set Thursday night at the Matadome, the CSUN bench began to get antsy.
Pepperdine point after Pepperdine point, the Matador reserves restlessly cringed on the sidelines – more at the feeling of bottled-in euphoria waiting to be released than at the fear of the Waves mounting a miraculous comeback.
On the court, CSUN outside hitter Brandon Lebrock remained unfazed, however.
“I don’t think we got nervous,” said Lebrock of a fourth set in which Pepperdine dodged three consecutive set-point opportunities from CSUN to draw within 24-21. “We knew that eventually we were going to get one of the points.”
Whether or not everyone was chill on the Northridge side as Pepperdine rallied is debatable, but what there’s no dispute about any longer is that the Matadors belong in the playoffs. Lebrock took care of that by putting down his 21st kill of the night to finish off Pepperdine, lifting his team to a 3-1 win (25-20,17-25, 25-19, 25-21) and earning the final playoff spot available in the MPSF.
The first round of the MPSF Tournament will take place at USC on April 21.
With a 2-1 lead and cruising for most of the deciding frame, the Matadors (12-16, 8-13 MPSF) went up 24-18 on a service error from Pepperdine middle blocker Matt Pollock. With the aroma of the eighth playoff seed beginning to inundate the Matadome, a few smiling Matadors started to embrace on the sidelines.
Pepperdine didn’t feel like being dismissed quite so easily, though, and put down two kills and forced a CSUN attack error to push the Matadors into a timeout.
Following act out of the break, Lebrock blasted one right by a Wave to put a happy ending to the night and allow his teammates to finally celebrate the postseason berth.
Getting the last point of the night took less than five minutes, but it felt like an hour, Lebrock said.
While the ending turned out to be a bit more exciting than CSUN wanted it to be, there really weren’t many thrills before that. CSUN took charge in the first set, Pepperdine dominated the second, then it was all Northridge the rest of the way.
“We got a little momentum when (the Waves) started struggling passing,” CSUN head coach Jeff Campbell said. “We took them out of system.”
Having lost the first set 25-20 after the Matadors ended it on a 6-1 run, the Waves jumped all over CSUN in the second and led 18-10 following a four consecutive aces by opposite Maurice Torres.
Torres, who had eight kills through the second, was unstoppable. But that was before he went down with a right-ankle injury late in the frame.
With the unfortunate turn of Torres’s ankle, so turned the momentum in the game. CSUN grabbed it and punished the Waves by hitting .364 in an uncomplicated third and .481 in the fourth.
Torres came back briefly in the last frame before shutting himself down for the rest of a night that clearly belonged to the Matadors.
“I tried to give it another go, I couldn’t do it,” said Torres, whose team will also be in the playoffs.
The Matadors, who face No. 1 USC Saturday at home to finish the regular season, had to wait until the next-to-last game to make the postseason, which is fine by them. Judging from Thursday night’s game, that’s their style.
“CSUN played really well. Congrats to them.” Torres said.