KENOSHA –After going up two sets to none, UC Santa Cruz was suddenly on the verge of inexplicably going home from their first NCAA Division III Tournament in four years.
Instead, the Banana Slugs persevered and pulled off arguably the biggest upset in the Tournament's entire history, surviving third-seeded and host Carthage 3-2 (26-24, 25-21, 24-26, 20-25, 15-6).
The win avenged a 3-2 loss to Carthage in the same arena in February, and it was UCSC's first NCAA win since the inaugural Tournament of 2012, when current head coach Paul Leon was the Slugs' starting setter.
"I'm very proud of how my boys played and handed the adversity," Leon said afterwards. "We addressed that every team we face this weekend will provide adversity. It's about how we adapt to those moments."
UC Santa Cruz won their seventh-straight match to go to 19-16. Carthage ended their season at 23-3.
Senior Raymond Cascio went over 1,000 career kills and finished with a career-high 27, the third-most kills in a Division III Tournament game. Justin Fortner and Kyle Donohoe added 10 kills each. Sam Wittert had 54 assists and a team-high three aces.
UCSC won the first two sets with timely hitting and blocking. Carthage however used their home-court advantage in the next two sets. In set three, the hosts closed on a 6-2 run after UCSC led 22-20 to win 26-24, In set four, Carthage finished on a 9-5 run in a 25-20 win that tied the match.
The final set however saw the Slugs regain their early-match spark and they did not let Carthage get close to take the wild match.
"After the fourth set they had momentum," recalled Cascio. "We went back and just talked about 'this is the moment we've been working towards. This will be a character-building moment.' "
The Banana Slugs hit .260 in the match to Carthage's .174, and outhit the Red Men .455 to -.143 in the vital fifth set.
UC Santa Cruz plays Fontbonne tomorrow at 4:00 PM Pacific for a ticket to the Final Four in New Jersey.