By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The magic of a road team on a mission was too much for Maria Carrillo in Saturday’s North Coast Section Division 2 volleyball championship.
Las Lomas rediscovered their hitting stroke in the critical fourth game, applying pressure the Pumas rarely face, and came from behind to take the deciding fifth game for the 3-2 victory.
For the second consecutive season, Maria Carrillo lost the championship.
The likely result is a NorCal playoff match on the road to open the California Interscholastic Federation state tournament Tuesday.
“We played our hardest. But we made a few too many errors,” said Calan Seitz, Maria Carrillo’s hitting leader. “It sucks, but we have to just let it go.
“We’ll learn from it.”
What the Pumas were reminded of in the Las Lomas match is the team that makes fewer errors and handles serves best wins.
Yet the Knights had another edge. The win was the second away from home after Las Lomas took out top seed Redwood in the semifinals.
“It’s absolutely amazing. We’re determined to win,” said Rachel Nieto, the Knights’ top hitter and digger.
While the Pumas were the favorites, both teams expected a tight match. Maria Carrillo knew last season’s section semifinal win over Las Lomas at home would have little bearing on Saturday’s outcome.
Indeed, the Knights depth up front and hustle to keep rallies alive was apparent in a dominating first game win.
The three top hitters for the Knights took turns pounding winners, beginning with Geneva Duffy’s left handed knuckle balls and complemented by shots from Maddie Borch and Nieto. Then with a four point lead super sub Lauren Fitterer — another lefty — entered to help the Knights close out the game on an 8-1 run.
“They have great ball control. They’re very, very steady,” said Maria Carrillo coach Jeff Nielson. “This was the toughest match we played.”
Determined to play better with a packed gym cheering encouragement, Maria Carrillo passed the ball to get more hitters involved and put Las Lomas on their heels. While Seitz is the catalyst to the Pumas’ powerhouse offense, Claire Brady off the bench and middle blocker Mikaela Francis need to get their swings for Maria Carrillo to keep opponents guessing.
“Their goal was to block us. You just have to keep swinging,” Seitz said.
After falling behind again, the Pumas went on a 10-2 run to take a big lead.
Solid serving from Kelli Kingsborough helped spark Maria Carrillo.
Then the Pumas held off a Las Lomas rally, winning on a block by Brady and Francis.
The match appeared in hand following Maria Carrillo’s convincing win in game three.
Maria Carrillo played with customary energy and took advantage of Las Lomas errors to gain an early lead. In one stretch the Pumas won seven consecutive points on long serves, double hits, and bad passes. Another game-winning block had Maria Carrillo pumped for a section title.
Las Lomas had other plans.
“We kind of came together and said we’ve got to leave it all on the floor,” Nieto said.
The Knights waved their magic wand, taking the first point in the fourth game and never yielding the edge. Las Lomas played with the confidence and power familiar to Maria Carrillo fans.
Leading the hit parade was Borch, wielding a quick and powerful right arm to hammer more than a handful of kills. Often setting up the Knights’ hitters was Rachel Linden.
Still, momentum swung back and forth in the deciding game. Blocking and digging were at a premium.
“That just shows how much both teams wanted it,” Nieto said.
After hitting a kill, Nieto urged her teammates with a shout of “Let’s go” as Las Lomas took a one point lead.
Maria Carrillo responded with kills by Brady and Francis, the latter on a circle around play the Knights could not defend.
Just as quickly, Nieto pounded a winner and served an ace as Las Lomas regained the lead. The Knights did not waver, winning the next two points and the match.
Despite the loss, Maria Carrillo plays again. The girls get back to work for the Nor Cal playoffs.
“We’re starting a new season,” Seitz said.