Once the run started, UC Merced women's volleyball coach Allen McCreary could only try to limit the damage.
McCreary called timeouts. He pulled players over and dished out advice in between points. He unloaded his bench frequently in hopes someone could right the ship with a big play or two.
None of it worked.
The Golden Bobcats raced out to a commanding 15-4 lead in the fourth set on Saturday afternoon at Hostetler Court and then completely unraveled. UC Santa Cruz closed the set with a 21-3 run to finish off a 25-18, 23-25, 25-21, 25-18 victory.
"That was a great start to the fourth set and then we just stopped playing," McCreary said. "We've got two key players out with injury and that's forced us to get some different bodies in there, but there's no excuse for not being able to finish games out."
The collapse was not how UC Merced wanted to head into its first California Pacific Conference Tournament. The Golden Bobcats open the tournament against William Jessup on Thursday night at Menlo College.
The winner earns an automatic berth into the NAIA Tournament.
If the Golden Bobcats (8-19) can recreate the way they opened the fourth set against Santa Cruz, they have to like their chances of making a run.
It was the perfect response after the Banana Slugs pulled out a back-and-fourth third set to take a 2-1 lead.
UCM rode the tandem of Patricia Schellentrager (10 kills) and Valeria Martinez (match-high 13 kills) to a 15-4 lead. Setter Genna Garrett (34 assists) could do no wrong, hitting Schellentrager for four quick kills while Martinez added two kills and three aces.
"That was a fun match to be a part of," Garrett said. "There were a lot of kills and I felt like we played with a lot of energy.
"We've done a good job starting strong, but we aren't great at finishing. To blow that kind of lead is embarrassing."
With Merced up 16-6, Santa Cruz got things going with a 7-0 run.
Katherine Grow (team-high 11 kills), Elisabeth Trambley (10) and Annie Reyes-Ortiz all got in on the act as the Slugs began firing away.
McKenzie Willett (10 kills and team-high three blocks) answered with a kill for the Bobcats, but it couldn't stop the flow of the tide. Santa Cruz (13-14) closed the match out with a 21-3 run.
UC Merced was a little slow to get going, dropping the first set 25-18, but answered back with a 25-23 win in set two.
The Bobcats jumped out to a 12-6 lead in set three, but Santa Cruz fought its way back to take it 25-21.
"We just have to let this go and look at the conference tournament as a clean slate," Garrett said. "It's win or go home, so we just have to focus on the team across from us."