AZUSA, Calif. -- If Azusa Pacific played every match against Point Loma Nazarene, sophomore outside hitter Jill Baker might already own most every career record in the Cougar record books. Baker put away 5 of her match-high 28 kills in a nearly perfect final game to lead the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific to another 5-game come-from-behind victory over No. 8-ranked Point Loma Nazarene Saturday night in Azusa, 30-28, 28-30, 27-30, 30-25, 15-5.
“We really found our rhythm in the fourth game, and we had the momentum that entire fifth game,” said Baker, who has posted 20 or more kills in 11 of the past 22 matches. “We had all our components working at the end, and when we get our whole team playing that well, we’re pretty tough to stop.”
In just 4 career matches against the Sea Lions, Baker has racked up 107 kills while committing just 26 errors in 299 attempts, a .271 hitting percentage. With a pair of service aces, 5 blocks (3 solo) and 26 digs in tonight’s 5-game win, Baker ran her career totals against the Sea Lions to 82 digs, 7 aces and 12 blocks. Baker’s 86 attack attempts broke the single-match record she set with 80 attempts in a 5-game home win over Biola last year.
With the game knotted at 2 games apiece, Baker put away 4 kills and recorded a solo block in a 7-point run that erased a 3-2 deficit in the decisive fifth game. After a Melissa Boer kill cut the Cougar lead to 9-4, another Baker kill sparked a 5-point run to game point. Freshman outside hitter Leanne Stennett scored Azusa Pacific’s final 5 points on kills to seal the victory.
“In practice, you get in those grooves,” said Stennett. “When you go up to jump, you just know it’s going down. Tonight was one of the few times this season that I’ve gotten to play outside, and I happened to get into that groove. Allison (Kincheloe)’s sets were in the perfect spots, and all of us really wanted this win.”
It was Azusa Pacific’s second come-from-behind 5-game win over Point Loma Nazarene this season, and it was the Cougars’ 11th win in the past 15 matches.
Senior outside hitter Brianne Huff turned in one of the finest performances of her 4-year career, tying a personal career-high with 19 kills to go with a career-best 19 digs. Huff added 5 blocks, part of Azusa Pacific’s season-high 18.5 team blocks. Junior middle blocker Kelsey Knudsen contributed a career-high 9 blocks, and junior right side hitter Megan Burch was an efficient offensive weapon as she recorded all 13 of her kills through the first 3 games.
Senior libero Alison Pattison added a match-high 3 aces to go with 24 digs, and junior setter Allison Kincheloe notched 72 assists and a season-high 26 digs, part of the Cougars’ season-high 122-dig effort.
“Our girls understand the game pretty well, and they knew we had to lower our errors if we wanted to put the pressure on the opponent,” said Cougar head coach Chris Keife, who has now guided the Cougars to 4 straight 20-win campaigns for the first time in program history. “Point Loma did a great job of that and made us earn every point until the tide turned late in the fourth game.”
Azusa Pacific trailed in all 5 games of the match, overcoming a 5-point deficit midway through the opening game to take what would be an extremely important 1-game advantage with a 30-28 win.
“It’s always great to get that first game,” said Baker. “In the next 2, we committed too many errors, and we knew we had to fix that if we wanted to turn things back around and put the pressure back on them. It was just a matter of putting our minds to it and choosing to do it.”
In the second game, the Cougars battled back from a late 6-point deficit at 20-14 to tie the game at 28-28, but Natalie Acklin’s kill and subsequent block closed out a 30-28 win for the Sea Lions that evened the match at 1 game apiece. Point Loma Nazarene scored 7 of the first 8 points in Game 3 and held off a late Azusa Pacific rally for a 30-27 win, taking a 2-1 lead in the match.
The pivotal fourth game swung back and forth with 5 lead changes, including a 7-point swing midway through the game when a 13-9 Cougar advantage turned into a 17-14 lead for Point Loma Nazarene. After an Azusa Pacific timeout, the Cougars reeled off 5 straight points to take the lead for good at 19-17 following a Huff block and subsequent kill. Sophomore middle blocker Tara Chambers’ back-to-back kills closed out the game with a 30-25 win that forced the fifth game.
“I was impressed with our ability to hang in there and keep a positive outlook throughout the match,” said Keife. “I felt like we didn’t get into our rhythm until the fourth and fifth games. That’s why it’s important for us to stay positive, because I know the longer we keep playing, we’ll end up finding that rhythm. We served very well in Game 5, and that pretty much set the tone for us. We got some free balls and down balls, and that freed us up to get some good swings.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 11-7 in GSAC play, 20-8 overall, clinching at least a fifth-place finish in the conference standings. Point Loma Nazarene drops to 7-11 GSAC, 15-12 overall.
The Cougars take on No. 4-ranked Biola for the regular season home finale on Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. before wrapping up the regular season on Thursday, Nov. 8 with a visit to No. 16-ranked Vanguard.