By Jeremy Balan
Galileo Academy had every chance to fold against visiting Lincoln High School in a matchup of unbeaten Academic Athletic Association teams on Wednesday.
But after dropping the first two games, the Lions rallied back for a 24-26, 21-25, 25-22, 26-24, 15-11 win, to take over first place outright in the AAA.
After Galileo surrendered a 15-10 lead in the first game, which Lincoln would go on to win 26-24, the Mustangs jumped out to a 5-0 lead and cruised to a 25-21 win in the second game, seemingly putting the match out of reach.
But the Lions (9-3, 4-0) responded by sweeping the final three games, including a thrilling fourth game where they overcame three match-point opportunities.
“It was a surprise,” said Galileo head coach Mark Huynh. “It feels good to win, but we can’t wait to play them again, because we know it’s going to be exciting. Now that we’ve seen everybody, we know what to expect in the second round.”
The difference may have come from the Galileo front line, which tallied 13 point-scoring blocks in the final three games, after they got only two blocks in the first two games.
Leading the way for the Lions was sophomore middle blocker Chris Lee, who had a team-high 10 kills and five blocks, but even in the loss, the undisputed star of the match was Lincoln senior outside hitter Philip Xie.
Xie often carried the Mustangs and pounded a game-high 26 kills, and fellow senior Johnson Li added 18.
“We relied too much on them,” said Lincoln head coach Vincent Tang. “I never want them to have that many kills again, plain and simple. I never want them to work that hard to win a match. I want us to be more than just an outside team and other teams need to know who our middles are. If we get them going, we’re going to be good.”
The pair had more kills (44) than Galileo had total (40), but mistakes nagged the Mustangs (4-4, 3-1) throughout and they totaled a staggering 50 unforced errors.
“The main thing is, we need to stop killing ourselves with errors,” Tang said. “Maybe a third of their points were by us not passing well or making stupid mistakes. We just let the game go, simple as that.”
The Lions have now defeated both AAA finalists from last season and have yet to lose in league play, but Huynh knows the Mustangs will be ready when the two teams meet again on April 29.
“When we see them again, it will be exciting to see how far we get and how far they get,” Huynh said. “[Xie and Li] are already, pound for pound, probably the best hitters in the City. It’s going to be tough, because they’re hard to stop.”