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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
BYU players celebrate a point as they play Cal Baptist Friday, March 8, 2013. BYU won in straight sets.

PROVO — Just one night after taking an easy straight-set victory over Cal Baptist, the No. 1-ranked BYU volleyball team struggled to a four-set victory (20-25, 27-25, 26-24, 25-23) over the same team Saturday night at the Smith Fieldhouse.

Taylor Sander led the way for the Cougars with 17 kills, while Levi Cabral recorded a game-high 21 kills for the Lancers, who looked like a completely different team from the night before.

“Cal Baptist is a very good team and how they played tonight is what they are — much more than how they showed last night,” said BYU coach Chris McGown. “We obviously weren’t as good numbers-wise as we were last night, but we scrapped it out and a game like this is going to be good for us in the long run.”

Cal Baptist got off a a quick lead in the first set and never trailed — staving off whatever BYU threw at it before taking the set 25-20. The Cougars struggled to a .115 hitting percentage, which was punctuated by eight errors.

“That was rough for us coming out and we struggled a lot with just about everything,” said BYU’s Ben Patch. “I think they contested us more tonight and we probably weren’t as ready for it as we should have been.”

BYU took charge early in the second set and seemed poised to take it easily, but Cal Baptist had other ideas. The Lancers overcame five-point deficit midway through the set to close at 25-25 before BYU finished them off, 27-25

The third set was largely the same story with the Cougars leading throughout and the Lancers nipping at their heels every step of the way.

“Cal Baptist is one of the best teams in the country. They have very talented players and I knew they’d make us earn it tonight,” McGown said. “They’ve been like that from what I’ve seen. One night they’re down and the next night they can play with anyone and play at a high level like they did tonight.”

The Lancers took an early lead in the fourth set and led 14-12 before the Cougars reeled off four straight points and never trailed again en route to winning the set — and the match — 25-23.

Overall the Cougars finished with paltry .191 hitting percentage — far below their season average of .322. Josue Rivera and Russ Lavaja added nine and eight kills, respectively, with Michael Hatch adding a team-high six blocks.

Sander finished with four service aces to bring his career total to 114, which is an NCAA record

While it’s nice to always be at your best, as the team was Friday night, McGown is grateful for opportunities to eke out victories when his team is struggling.

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“I think this helps us in tight games that we’ll have to play from here on out,” McGown said. “To be a great team you have to figure out different ways to win games and it’s not always going to be the same way. I think a game like this one tonight can help us a lot learning that we can’t take anyone lightly and knowing that we can win games when we’re not playing well collectively as a team.”

With the win BYU improves to 15-3 on the year and 14-2 in MPSF conference play. Next up for the Cougars is a road match against Cal State Northridge on March 22.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney