AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 12-ranked Azusa Pacific used a balanced attack to stay within striking distance of the NAIA’s No. 4-ranked California Baptist, but a 24-kill, 18-dig performance from Verania Willis gave the Lancers a 30-23, 32-30, 28-30, 30-21 victory in the Cougars’ regular-season finale Thursday night at the Felix Event Center.
Junior Brianne Huff and sophomore Megan Burch each finished with 14 kills to lead the way for the Cougars, and Burch added 10 digs. Freshman Jill Baker tallied 11 kills and 3 aces, and sophomore Brittany Brown collected a team-high 12 digs.
California Baptist blocked 5 Cougar attacks in the 30-23 opening-game win, then Willis registered 9 kills in the second game to lead the Lancers to the 32-30 win and subsequent 2-game advantage.
Trailing 24-20 in the third game, Azusa Pacific rallied with 6 straight points behind a pair of Burch kills and an ace from sophomore setter Allison Kincheloe that gave the Cougars a 26-24 lead and an eventual 30-28 Game 3 win to cut the Lancers’ game advantage to 2-1. Burch had 5 kills to lead all attackers in the third game.
California Baptist used a 13-3 run in the fourth game to turn a tight 7-6 lead into a 20-9 rout, but a pair of kills from senior Chelsea Morgan sparked an 8-3 run that cut the deficit to 23-17. The Cougars would not get closer than 6 points the rest of the way, and the Lancers sealed the match with a 30-21 Game 4 win.
In addition to Willis' standout performance, California Baptist got a 16-kill effort from freshman Shi Fei, a 7-block night from senior Lindsey Siefken and a match-high 4 service aces from junior Angela Willis.
With the defeat, Azusa Pacific wraps up the regular season with a 20-9 record overall, 12-8 in GSAC play. Depending on Saturday’s conference action, the Cougars could finish anywhere from fourth to sixth in the final conference standings. California Baptist improves to 25-6 overall, 15-4 in GSAC, and the Lancers wrap up the regular season when they visit Westmont Saturday.
Azusa Pacific will participate in the NAIA Region II Playoffs, which begin Tue., Nov. 14, but the Cougars will have to wait for the rest of the conference schedule to conclude this weekend before finding out whether they will host a first-round match or hit the road to take on a first-round foe.