FRESNO, Calif. –- The NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Azusa Pacific came one step closer to beating defending national champion California Baptist. The problem is the Cougars were still 2 steps short.
California Baptist used quick starts to games 3 and 4 to break a one-all tie and went to down Azusa Pacific, 30-22, 21-30, 30-22, 30-24 in the semifinals of the NAIA regional playoffs at Fresno Pacific University.
With the victory Cal Baptist advances to the regional championship match for the second straight year where it will meet top-ranked and undefeated Fresno Pacific Saturday (Nov. 19) at 7 p.m. Meanwhile Azusa Pacific takes on Point Loma Nazarene in a third-place at 4 p.m. with a berth into the NAIA Championship Tournament on the line.
In tonight’s match, GSAC Player of the Year Verania Willis peppered the Cougar defense with a match-high 23 kills and thwarted any Cougar comeback with a match-high 4 block assists to lead the Lancers to their fourth straight victory over Azusa Pacific.
"We played pretty well," said Cougar coach Chris Keife, "we just couldn't get a sideout when we needed to. They got on rolls that we couldn't stop."
The Cougars, who went down in 3-game sweeps to the Lancers twice during the regular season, took a game from CBU for the first time in over a year. Senior Colleen Walker paced Azusa Pacific with 13 kills while All-GSAC junior Chelsea Morgan chipped in with 11 kills. And while the Cougars were their own worst enemy by giving away 20 points on serve and serve-receive errors, the Lancer defense was difficult to overcome as well. Cal Baptist collected 9 blocks and 75 digs.
Azusa Pacific, which loses for only the third time in the past 11 matches (all to Cal Baptist and Fresno Pacific) falls to 24-8. Cal Baptist improves to 28-3.