HILMAR — For the first time in school history, the Hilmar volleyball team will play for a section title.
The No. 2 seed Yellowjackets punched their ticket to Thursday’s Division 4 championship game in thrilling fashion with a 25-23, 20-25, 10-25, 25-19, 18-16 win over third-seed Bear River on Tuesday night at Strom Gym.
“I was afraid,” said Hilmar’s Alexis Alvernaz, who picked up the final kill of the match. “It’s my senior year. I didn’t want to lose it. We want to make it to sections. It’s amazing. I’m shaking right now.”
The Yellowjackets received a monster performance from their star outside hitter Emily Baptista, who finished with 37 kills. Setter Haylee Pearce finished with 51 assists.
Hilmar (37-7) leaned on Baptista heavily after falling behind 2-1 in games.
With the season on the line, Bapista had six early kills in Game 4 to give the Yellowjackets an 8-2 lead causing Bear River to blow through both of its timeouts.
“It was definitely very stressful,” Baptista said. “We didn’t let it get to us. That third game was really emotional. We were all over the place. After that game we talked. We said we can do this. We had to let that game go and come out and play our game.”
Baptista started exploiting holes in the Bruins defense. The big lead took a lot of the pressure off her teammates and they were able to ride out a win in Game 4 to force the important fifth game.
The Yellowjackets had to twice battle back from four- and three-point deficits in the fifth game. Bear River’s Kirsten Pereira recorded two kills to help her team jump out to an 8-4 lead. Hilmar closed the deficit to 9-8, only to see Kaely Rath pick up two kills to extend the Bruins’ lead to 12-9.
“Sometimes we’ll start a game slow, but I have a sense of what we’re going to do,” said Yellowjackets coach Patti Harris. “I’ve been with these girls for a while. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, if any team can do it it’s this team.”
Hilmar middle blocker Brittney Fielder (12 kills and two blocks) played big down the stretch in the fifth game. Fielder came up with a big kill and a block to pull the Yellowjackets within 12-11. Hilmar finally pulled even at 14-all.
Both teams had opportunities to close out the match.
Hilmar twice fought off match-point chances by Bear River to take a 16-15 lead on a kill by Lexie Victoria. However, Teryn Rath’s block tied the match again at 16-all.
That’s when Baptista brought the Hilmar crowd to their feet with her 37th kill. Alvernaz then put away the final kill that set off a wild Hilmar celebration.
“This is big for us,” Baptista said. “It’s the first time a team has played for a section title in Hilmar.”
The Yellowjackets will face No. 1 seed Sonora at UC Davis on Thursday at 6 p.m.
Hilmar was able to get a good look at Sonora a couple weeks ago when Harris took five or six players to watch the Wildcats face Oakdale. Sonora knocked Hilmar out of the playoffs last year in the quarterfinals in five games.
“We know a lot about Sonora,” Harris said. “They are a very good team. They knocked us out in five games last year. They have a lot of big hitters. They like to pound it.”
Stone Ridge Chr. 3, Valley Chr. 0
ROSEVILLE Stone Ridge Christian will be playing for the first section title in school history.
Ken Shaw’s squad already had made history with its run into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 6 semifinals, but the Knights (23-7) weren’t content with that. Rachel Taylor had 13 kills and Amber Fletcher added 33 assists as No. 4 Stone Ridge knocked off top-seeded Valley Christian 25-18, 25-23, 25-20.
Stone Ridge will face No. 2 Turlock Christian in the championship match at UC Davis on Thursday. First serve is set for 4 p.m.
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.