By Joseph Beyda
A year ago, outside hitter Brad Lawson’s 27 kills weren’t enough to prevent Stanford from being eliminated in five sets at home in the first round of the MPSF tournament.
Lawson may have only mustered 22 kills in the conference-tourney opener this time around, but the senior’s efforts were more than enough to get the No. 3 Cardinal to the semifinals in its 25-23, 25-17, 23-25, 25-17 victory over No. 9 Pepperdine at Maples Pavilion on Saturday. He set the school record for kills (1,788) in the rally-scoring era in the process, propelling Stanford (21-7, 17-5 MPSF) past the Waves (14-15, 9-13) with his .514 hitting percentage.
Sophomores Brian Cook, Steven Irvin and Eric Mochalski were in double-figures in kills as well and helped the Cardinal avoid another first-round upset.
In a back-and-forth first set, neither team had more than a two-point advantage until Pepperdine jumped out to a 16-13 lead and forced a Stanford timeout. The Cardinal quickly bounced back to knot things up at 18, and grabbed a three-point lead of its own on a Lawson kill, an error by senior blocker Matt Pollock and a Lawson block.
Stanford led the rest of the way, and a kill from sophomore hitter Steven Irvin clinched the opening set.
The Cardinal cruised to a 10-3 second-set lead and didn’t look back, going wire-to-wire and earning its 24th and 25th points on a pair of service errors. The Waves slightly out-served Stanford with 11 service errors to the Cardinal’s 14, but Pepperdine’s sloppy end to the second set put Stanford firmly in the driver’s seat.
The Waves responded by grabbing an 8-5 lead to start the third set. Stanford had five straight points to regain control of the match, but a strong finish by Pepperdine — which trailed 19-17 at one point — kept it alive, and freshman Matt Tarantino’s block off Irwin ended the set at 25-23 to give the Waves a shot at the comeback.
Pepperdine hung in the fourth set until 7-6, when a kill and a block from Lawson and two errors by Tarantino created some separation for Stanford on the scoreboard. Senior Evan Barry — also playing in his last game on the Farm — punched the Cardinal’s ticket to the second round with his block at 24-17.
Things will only get harder for Stanford, with the top four teams in the country all still alive in the MPSF semifinals. Fortunately for the Cardinal, the squad gets to play No. 4 BYU first while No. 1 USC and No. 2 UC-Irvine duke it out in the other semifinal; Stanford beat the Cougars twice in as many days in Utah in early February, while it only has recorded one win against the other two remaining squads, a 3-0 victory at Irvine on Feb. 17.
The Cardinal meets BYU at USC’s Galen Center on Thursday at 5 p.m.