Buhach Colony senior Jessica Pinasco describes Thunder volleyball as a little team that can do big things.
Pinasco and the Thunder accomplished something big with Thursday night’s 25-19, 25-12, 25-21 victory over No. 12 seed Rio Americano in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinals.
For the first time since 2006, No. 4 Buhach Colony will advance to the semifinals to face No. 1 Christian Brothers on Tuesday in Sacramento.
“We wanted to make a deep run in the playoffs this year,” Pinasco said. “Last year we lost in the first round, and we said, ‘Next year, our goal is to win sections.’ We want to win a section title.”
The Thunder (20-10) were undersized against Rio Americano (22-13), but they held their own at the net. Jenny Zaragoza was a big reason why with five blocks.
“Wow, is she coming along,” said Buhach Colony coach Andy Hill. “She was great tonight.”
The Raiders had a hard time matching the Thunder’s firepower.
Cameron Gray (19 kills) and Pinasco (14 kills) pounded away at the defense. Freshman Miranda Baptista chipped in with 11 kills, giving the Thunder a formidable third option. Zaragoza had four kills from the middle to go along with her blocks.
“So we were a team, a real team now,” Hill said. “We know that now. This is the volleyball I’ve been waiting to see from us all year. We didn’t have to lean on Jessica tonight. We didn’t have to lean on Cameron. Everyone contributed.
“Rio Americano still had some fight in that third game. We slipped a couple points, but Emma (Seifert) did a couple things to help us. Mckenzie (Powell) was great on defense and serve receive. Everyone did their part.”
The Thunder settled in much quicker Thursday than they did in the playoff opener against Los Banos on Tuesday. Buhach Colony was more relaxed with a playoff victory under their belt.
“We got our playoff nerves out last game,” said Baptista, who finished with 21 assists. “Tonight we came with a lot of emotion and energy.”
The Thunder fed off the energy of a large crowd made up of mostly students. The Thunder volleyball booster club, along with some parents, chipped in to pick up the tab for any Buhach Colony student who came to the game. With a large crowd from the football rally spilling over into the gym, the Thunder had a raucous rooting section.
“That was huge,” Hill said. “That was great for the boosters and some of the parents to do that. All of these kids are friends of the players. A lot of them said they couldn’t afford to pay to come to the games. Some people stepped up to pay for all the kids to get in. Volleyball is more fun when it’s played in front of a big crowd like this.”
The crowd picked up the Thunder when they needed a lift. The first game was competitive until Buhach Colony pulled away late, scoring eight of the final 10 points.
The Thunder cruised in the second game, then had to pull it together late in the third game to finish the sweep.
“It felt good tonight because we played our game,” Zaragoza said. “This is exciting, especially not getting out of the first round last year. Now to be in the semifinals.”
Next up is top-seeded Christian Brothers, which dominated No. 9 El Capitan 25-20, 25-7, 25-10 on Thursday night.
“We can’t doubt ourselves and think, ‘Oh, they’re the No. 1 seed,’ ” Pinasco said. “We’re No. 4. There’s not that big a difference between one and four. We just have to stay consistent and play our game, and we’ll be fine.”
Stone Ridge Christian 3, Foresthill 0 in Merced – Aubriana Vander Woude recorded 22 kills, and Tara Silva had 35 assists and 21 digs as the Knights (26-3) cruised into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals with a 25-9, 25-20, 25-9 victory.