Jessica Pinasco can be reluctant to bring out her jump serve.
Buhach Colony High School volleyball coach Andy Hill said it’s a risk-reward weapon in which the senior doesn’t always have supreme confidence.
One would have never known Tuesday night. With her team still attempting to shake off first-round playoff jitters, Pinasco began bombing away with a vicious top-spin serve in the middle of the second set. She recorded back-to-back aces and sparked a quick 5-0 run. It was the shot in the arm the Thunder needed.
Buhach Colony closed the second set with a 15-4 run and never looked back in a 25-23, 25-14, 25-14 victory over Los Banos in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. The fourth-seeded Thunder (19-10) will host No. 12 Rio Americano in the quarterfinals Thursday.
“She gets scared to pull out that big top-spin serve,” Hill said. “I have to encourage her sometimes to let it go. Some nights if she’s not hitting well, that swing can help get her going on offense. Jessica brought it out at the perfect time and helped get some momentum going.
“Once we go on a run like that, I tell the kids we’re going to keep running. That’s where we pick up the tempo and really try not to let a team back into the match.”
Buhach followed the plan perfectly, coming to life after gutting out a nervy first set.
The Thunder were clearly amped up from playing in front of a nice Thunderdome crowd, as a number of early kill attempts sailed long. Hill said he was pleased with the way his veterans stepped up to help calm things down. He had particular praise for seniors Jenny Zaragoza (a season-high six kills and team-high two blocks) and Emma Seifert (five kills, two blocks), who helped the Thunder take a 24-21 lead.
Sharon Lampreda answered with two of her six kills to pull Los Banos (24-9) within 24-23, but a service error sealed the set for Buhach.
“We needed that first set,” Tigers coach Grag Soliz said. “We needed to build some confidence and momentum early. We didn’t start badly in the second set, but we don’t see a big jump serve like that in conference. (Pinasco) got a few aces, and all of a sudden our passing broke down. We never really got it back together.”
Los Banos rode middle blocker Bailey Allen (a team-high nine kills) to a 6-2 lead in set two.
The Thunder chipped away at the lead, and a Pinasco (10 kills, 12 digs, five aces) tip brought them within 10-9. They ran off four more points behind her serve and never trailed again in the match.
“We definitely started the match with some playoff jitters,” Pinasco said. “I was personally very pumped up. After having seen Los Banos in the summer, I know teams typically come back ready to play when they see you a second time. I think winning the first set calmed us down. We kind of took a breath and reset.
“My serve definitely got me going. I hit a few into the net, but I got enough in to kind of get them on their heels. I felt like our serve-receive game took over after that. The danger with our team is that if we can get a clean pass, everyone is capable of putting it away in one swing. That’s what we did the rest of the way.”
Buhach showed off its balance and depth, spreading the ball around. Cameron Gray led the way with a match-high 12 kills while Miranda Baptista had eight. Mallory Pazin paced the Thunder with 19 assists.
No. 9 El Capitan 3, No. 8 Benicia 1 in Benicia – Ariana Johnson paced the Gauchos with a team-high 17 kills and Makenzie Webber had nine kills and 14 digs as they reach the second round of the Division III playoffs for the second straight year.
El Cap (15-13) will take on top-seeded Christian Brothers in Sacramento on Thursday. Yessenia Segarra had 25 assists in the victory, and Robin Helms had six big blocks.
No. 7 Le Grand 3, No. 10 Holt Academy 0 in Le Grand – Arisbeth Ceja had a team-high 10 kills, three blocks and five aces to lead the Bulldogs (13-5) to a first-round sweep in Division V.
Alyssa Bueno had a team-high 13 assists and Alexis Aguallo led Le Grand with 13 digs. The Bulldogs will travel to No. 2 Bradshaw Christian of Sacramento for a quarterfinal match Thursday.