The Sonora volleyball team had routinely beat teams in three games this year. So when the Wildcats dropped the first two games against Hilmar, Sonora coach Kim Evans reminded her team just that.
Evans told her team to treat the third game like it was the first and win the next three.
The Wildcats did just that, coming back from a two-game deficit to defeat Hilmar 23-25, 17-25, 25-20, 25-17, 18-16 to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 championship at UC Davis Pavilion. (See video highlights)
"All day I felt good about the match," said Evans, whose team won the first volleyball section title in school history. "Then we're down 2-0 and I'm thinking, 'Wait a minute. This isn't how it's supposed to go.' It's pretty spectacular. That was hard work and determination. We haven't gone five sets all season."
Early on it looked as though the Yellowjackets (37-8) would be bringing home their first blue banner.
Hilmar battled back from a 16-8 deficit to win the first game. Sophomore star Emily Baptista then took over the second game, recording 12 of her match-high 38 kills to help Hilmar go up 2-0.
The large Hilmar crowd started chanting "We want the blue."
"It's tough being up two games and giving away that lead," Baptista said. "Our energy just dropped. I think maybe we got too excited. We were really tired. We had no energy, we weren't talking and we stopped playing as a team."
Meanwhile, Sonora started gaining momentum.
The Wildcats (25-6) ran off eight straight points in the third game to open up a 20-11 lead and that allowed them to hold off a late Hilmar charge.
Sonora closed the fourth game scoring the final 13 points. Angela Gardella played a big role in the comeback, recording three straight kills to close out the fourth game. The junior outside hitter finished with a team-high 18 kills and five blocks.
"I think we shook out the nerves after the first two games," Gardella said. "Our coach came in and told us we didn't come all this way to lose like that. We're winners. We're going out there and we're going to win and we did.
"That was incredible. We got up after that third game, but we're still a set down. After we won the fourth game we said now we're going to win this thing. I've never felt like that during a game."
The fifth game was filled with drama.
Hilmar jumped out to a 5-0 lead and Sonora answered with a quick 4-0 run.
Baptista misfired on a couple of hits in a row and the Wildcats took a 9-7 lead. The game was tied at 10-all, 12-all and 14-all.
Hilmar's Brittney Fielder gave the Yellowjackets an opportunity to win the match when her kill gave Hilmar a 15-14 lead. Sonora answered back with two straight points to take a 16-15. lead. Baptista tied it with a kill at 16-all.
Gardella fired a shot across court for a kill that gave the Wildcats a 17-16 lead. Baptista then narrowly missed a shot wide that gave Sonora the win and set off a wild celebration as the Wildcats student section rushed the court.
"I don't think I've ever played in a game like that," Gardella said. "Our team does a good job of getting it done, but Hilmar is a great team. I have a lot of respect for them, but I knew in the back of my mind we were going to do it."
Both teams will find out this weekend who they will be matched up for in the NorCal Playoffs. Sonora likely earned a home game with the win.
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter He can be reached at 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org