HANFORD — For the second time in three seasons, the Golden Bears are headed to the Valley championship.
Olivia Fagundes’ 11th kill of the night gave the team match point and had them celebrating on the court behind the roar of the Sierra Pacific crowd.
“Shock, I guess,” Fagundes said about the moment. “It was just pure like, ‘Oh my God we’re going to Valley,’ and it just hit me right there.”
Sierra Pacific defended home court as the No. 1 seed and ousted No. 4 seed Minarets 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-9) in the CIF Central Section Division IV semifinals behind a strong defensive effort from libero Klarissa Solorio, and killer offense by outside hitters Jordan Keeling and Ashlan VanGronigen.
“They knew they had to earn it they fought to get to the semifinals,” Sierra Pacific coach Julie Coelho said. “Our house, our game and they did what they came to do. They got the job done, they played their game and they took it to them.”
After winning the first set, the Golden Bears (33-6, 12-0 ESL) began the second on a 5-0 run and showcased their versatility when it came to scoring. Jordan Keeling started with a kill, Morgan Reese followed with a block and Fagundes made it 3-0 with an ace. Keeling and Reese’s back-to-back kills punctuated the run.
The Golden Bears built a 12-5 advantage before going on a 6-0 run to take a 17-5 lead. The Mustangs (27-11, 12-0 WSL) attempted a comeback by going on a 14-4 run to cut the lead to 21-19.
But the Golden Bears, who hadn’t been challenged much in their first two playoff matches, responded by closing the set on a 4-1 run to take a commanding 2-0 lead.
“We made less errors and we just pulled it together,” Fagundes said. “I don’t know why we made so many mistakes in the first place … but we focused and we got it back.”
The third set quickly turned into a blowout as the Golden Bears got out to an 11-0 start ending with Amie Walker’s ace. This time there would be no attempted comeback by the Mustangs.
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“The energy level was very high and we were able to finish it all the way through without any misses in between,” Walker said.
A pair of 4-0 runs made it 15-2 and 22-7 with Keeling and VanGronigen picking their spots on the court. VanGronigen finished with a team-high 12 kills and Keeling ended with 11. Sierra Pacific didn’t even allow double-digit points in the clinching set.
“I’m really excited,” Walker said about heading back to the finals. “This time I think we have something special and I think we can do it this time and finish it.”
Walker and Fagundes were freshmen on the 2017 team which made it to the Division V championship. That team fell in the finals as the No. 3 seed to No. 1 seed California City, 3-1.
Both will get another shot at a championship as juniors now.
“We’ve worked so hard for it,” Fagundes said. “It’d be like the cherry on top. You just have to finish it. I hope we finish it and I hope we win it.”
The first set seemed as if the semifinals match was going to be a competitive one. The two teams traded points early with neither gaining a lead of more than three points.
Tied 13-13, the Golden Bears went on a 5-0 run to take their largest lead of the set.
“We just lost our nerves and we started playing our normal game,” Fagundes said. “Then we realized where we could hit it, where the open spot were, how they hit and how to dig it, so we just read the game.”
The Mustangs answered with a 3-0 run, but it was as close as they would come. The Golden Bears closed on a 7-3 run with back-to-back aces by Walker. The first set featured eight ties and three lead changes.
Walker finished with a team-high four aces, a team-high 20 assists and 11 digs. Reese contributed seven kills and one block, Solorio had team highs with 28 digs and 16 receptions, and Kylie Brasil had 14 assists off the bench.
Sierra Pacific will face No. 2 seed Kingsburg (20-19, 7-5 CSL) in the Division IV championship on Saturday at 10 a.m. The game will be held at College of the Sequoias.
Noe Garcia can be reached at (559) 583-2431 or email@example.com. Follow Noe on Twitter at @noecarlosgarcia.