Air France has lifted UC Irvine to the brink of another national championship.
Anteater All-American and French National Team outside attacker Kevin Tillie had a match-high 14 kills and seven digs as UC Irvine swept Loyola 26-24, 25-18, 29-27 in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Thursday in Los Angeles.
The defending NCAA champions UC Irvine in the victory out-hit Loyola .500 to .263 and had three players finish with more than a .500 attack percentage, including Tillie who had only three errors and a .579 attack percentage. Middle attacker Colin Mehring and outside attacker Connor Hughes also added nine kills against the Ramblers.
Loyola outside attacker Cody Caldwell in the loss had a team-high 12 kills, while outside attacker Joseph Smalzer, the 2013 MIVA Player of the Year, had 11 kills.
Both teams in the semifinal match had 14 service errors.
Loyola making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history had several opportunities to push the match beyond three games.
Despite trailing by as many as five points early in the third game, Loyola rallied to cut the deficit to 18-17. In addition, the Ramblers fought off three potential match-points to force overtime.
The Ramblers in the third-game overtime also had two failed game-point opportunities before a block by setter Chris Austin and a kill from Hughes on back-to-back plays completed the sweep for the Anteaters.
Loyola and UC Irvine were tied in the second game at 14 before going on a 11-4 run to close out the second game and take a two-game lead in the match. The Anteaters also had a match-high three blocks in the second game and held the Ramblers to a .062 attack percentage in the victory.
With UC Irvine trailing 20-17 in the first game, the match delayed several minutes because libero Michael Brinkley suffered bleedy nose attempting to dig a ball. Following the delay, UC Irvine went on a 4-0 run to lead and fought off a game-point before winning in overtime.
Tillie in the opening game victory led all players with six kills and had a dig in overtime that set-up the game-winning kill.
With this victory, UC Irvine advances to the NCAA Tournament championship for the second consecutive year and will play of the winner of the BYU and Penn State semifinal match.
The Anteaters are attempting to become the third program in men’s volleyball history to win back-to-back NCAA championships.