FRESNO, Calif. -- During Fresno Pacific’s perfect 20-match run through the GSAC this year, the Sunbirds lost just 5 of 65 games played against GSAC teams and 2 of them were to Azusa Pacific. Well give Azusa Pacific another notch on its belt, but the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Fresno Pacific is still headed to the NAIA National Championship Tournament for the ninth consecutive year, needing 4 games tonight to knock off No. 11 Azusa Pacific, 28-30, 30-19, 30-14, 30-22, in a semifinal match of the NAIA Region 2 playoffs in the Special Events Center on the campus of Fresno Pacific.
As usual, FPU's 2 All-American's did most of the damage. Mesha Wimer hit .625 on the evening with 22 kills on 32 swings with only two errors. She also had five blocks. Lin Gao had 17 kills and a match-high 14 digs. Kara Verwey and Chelsey Duley each added 10 kills, while setter Lisa Enns contributed 55 assists, nine digs and five blocks.
All-American Jenna Sagehorn led the Cougars with 13 kills and 12 digs. All-GSAC freshman Jenny Brickner chipped in with 10 kills and a match-high 6 blocks.
The Cougars out-hit FPU .225 to .150 to win Game 1, but the Sunbirds battled back to have things go pretty much their way in Games 2 and 3. Game 4 was close until the Sunbirds broke 10-10 with a 5-1 spurt. That made it 15-11. But just four points later (17-13) Gao twisted her right ankle when she landed on Amy Descoteaux' foot. She left with an apparent ankle sprain and did not return. Freshman Shailey Jones stepped in for Gao and scored the match-winning kill on a back slide.
Gao is listed as probable for Saturday evening's championship match against sixth-ranked Point Loma Nazarene. The Crusaders (24-6) used 20 kills from Rochelle Short to sweep 14th -ranked Westmont 30-28, 30-27, 30-25 in the earlier semifinal. Westmont (23-7) will face the Cougars for third place at 4 p.m.