LOS ANGELES — Pauley Pavilion went silent, the ball was in play and No. 1 Long Beach State was attempting to end the match for the seventh time in the set. A rally ensued as both teams refused to give in to the match.
The ball went to junior setter Josh Tuaniga at the front of the net. During the biggest moment of the match, Tuaniga pulled off a no-look throw over the net and won the match for Long Beach, pushing the 49ers through to the national championship while simultaneously sending two-time defending champions Ohio State home 25-22, 25-23, 25-27, 32-20.
“In the back of my head I just kept telling myself, ‘Please go down. Please go down. Please go down,’” Tuaniga said. “And it ended up going down, so I was super stoked.”
By winning the Final Four matchup, the team overcomes a feat that has been hanging over its head for an entire season, winning the same match that sent Long Beach home the two previous seasons.
“The last two years losing in the semifinal match was a rough feeling,” junior outside hitter Kyle Ensing said. “We knew we would have to have a backbone if we didn’t want to feel that this year. It’s an amazing feeling but we still have one more game ahead of us.”
The combination of Tuaniga and Ensing led the offensive attack for Long Beach throughout the night. Tuaniga finished with 42 assists, five kills, four digs, two aces and a block, while Ensing posted a double-double with a team-high 20 kills and 10 digs. He also added three blocks and one ace.
The match was close from start to finish, with neither team pulling away for more than six points. Long Beach took the first two sets of the match by a combined five points, putting Ohio State with its backs against the wall.
“Set number one is all about nerves,” Ohio State head coach Pete Hanson said. “Set number two we had a lead and let it slip away with some not very disciplined plays.”
From there Long Beach leaned on its core three players, Tuaniga, Ensing and junior outside hitter TJ DeFalco. DeFalco got off to a hot start, grabbing six kills and three digs in the first two sets and 10 kills, seven digs and two blocks in the last two. DeFalco ended the night with 16 kills, 10 digs, six assists and three blocks.
The match was a tale of two stories: Ohio State’s ability to serve and Long Beach’s ability to block at the net. The Buckeyes put together 10 aces on the night opposed to the 49ers’ mere three.
“Hats off to [the Buckeyes], that was some big time serving,” Long Beach head coach Alan Knipe said. “I’m so proud of our passers tonight, they hung in there and came through.”
Long Beach will take on the winner of BYU and UCLA at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Pauley Pavilion. The 49ers have a chance to take home the NCAA Championship for the first time since 1991 and will be aired live on ESPN2.