The serving duo of Francesco Sani and Hilir Henno was just too much for UC Santa Barbara, especially in the decisive game.
The pin-hitters each had an ace and forced UC Santa Barbara out-of-system multiple times in the fifth game as No. 6/6 UC Irvine completed its comeback victory 23-25, 22-25, 25-15, 25-11, 15-11 on Thursday in Santa Barbara, California.
Sani led all players with a season-high six aces, including having two aces as part of a 6-0 run midway through the third game to help jumpstart the comeback. This performance in the Anteaters’ third straight victory to open Big West play also extended Sani’s streak to 16 consecutive matches with an ace.
Henno, who entered the match leading the nation averaging 0.93 aces per game, finished with four aces In addition, the outside attacker now has a nation-best 60 aces and with a month left in the regular season is one ace away from tying the UC Irvine single-season record for aces.
Along with the serving performance, both Sani and Henno had double-digit kills as the Anteaters out-hit the Gauchos .301 to .165.
Sani ended with a match-high 21 kills on a .404 attack percentage – the third consecutive match the opposite has hit more than .400. Henno contributed 18 kills in the opener of this home-and-home conference series.
Setter Joe Karlous guided the offense to hit more than .325 in each of the final two games that was highlighted with the Anteaters (13-6, 3-0 Big West) having a match-best .650 attack percentage in the fourth game.
UC Santa Barbara (5-12, 1-3 Big West) after winning the first two games was limited to less than a .100 attack percentage in both the third and fourth games.
Nick Amoruso in the loss led UC Santa Barbara with 17 kills, while Ryan Wilcox added 11 kills.
The Gauchos have now lost three consecutive conference matches following a victory to open Big West play. In addition, the team travels to UC Irvine to conclude the home-and-home series on Friday and is winless in road matches this season.