Five sets and a match-and-a-half into Northern California Division II boys’ volleyball tournament, Serra had to be wondering: this is the best Northern California has to offer?
The Padres, who won their first Central Coast Section Division II title last weekend, dominated Marin Catholic in the first round of the Division II Nor Cal bracket, sweeping to 25-10, 25-17, 25-9 victory Tuesday.
Thursday in the semifinals, the second-seeded Padres hosted No. 3 Nevada Union-Grass Valley, which captured the Sac-Joaquin Division title and came in with a gaudy 29-2 record.
Serra had no problem through the first two sets, doing whatever it wanted.
But things got serious in Game 3, with the Miners winning going away, but the Padres recovered and pulled away late in the fourth set to post a 25-14, 25-18, 15-25, 25-20 victory and advanced to their first-ever Nor Cal championship game.
“This is definitely what it’s about,” said Serra head coach Heather Anthony. “Very impressed what our opponents brought.”
Serra will be on the road for the finals. The Padres will make the journey to Clovis, just outside of Fresno, to face top-seeded Clovis East at 6 p.m. Saturday. Clovis East beat fourth-seeded Monta Vista-Cupertino in four sets.
What the Miners brought was a three-man block that when going well, can stuff an opponent’s offense. It was the three-man block that brought Nevada Union that third set win and what kept the Miners battling to the end.
“They are known for that,” Anthony said. “In Game 3, they really stepped it up. … We had to be more creative with our offense.”
That block — along with an offensive attack as potent as the Padres’ — kept the Miners in the match in the fourth set as there were 12 ties and four lead changes. But with the game tied at 19-all, Serra won six of the final seven points to close out Nevada Union.
Serra (32-8) was led by the combination of outside hitter Brian Ronan and middle hitter Cade Rees. Ronan finished with 20 kills and Rees added 19. There was plenty of others involved — Nick Disco gave the Padres a third in double figures with 11 kills, Matt Conry added nine and Luke Besse chipping in with six kills, all while setter Neeraj Keshav guided the offense expertly.
In fact, it was on Keshav to determine when to involve the rest of the offense or look to the hot hand. He handled the decision making with aplomb.
“It was the combo of the two,” Anthony said of spreading the offense around, as well as going to the hot hand. “Neeraj did phenomenal tonight.”
The Padres maintained the momentum they gained in their Nor Cal opener Tuesday and kept it rolling early Thursday. Trailing 4-3 in the first set, a Rees kill started a 6-0 Serra run and two more kills from the 6-7 senior ended it with the Padres leading 9-4.
Nevada Union closed to 9-7 before the Padres spurted away again, with kills from Disco, Ronan and Rees to open up a 12-7 advantage, one that was pushed to 16-9 on a Conry block for a point.
At this point, Serra was on a roll. A 16-10 lead turned into a 22-10 advantage before the Padres finished off the Miners, 25-14.
In Game 2, three straight finishes from Ronan ignited a 9-3 start, with Serra finishing the opening run with four consecutive kills.
Nevada Union stabilized a bit after that initial onslaught and eventually closed to 13-12. But Serra won 12 of the final 17 points to take Game 2, 25-18.
Game 3 was close early and it stayed that way throughout as neither team could get separation. But with the game tied at 9-all, the Miners put together their best stretch of the match as both their hitting and blocking started to flow. The Miners went on to win seven of the next 10 points to take a 17-11 lead. Six straight Nevada Union points gave the Miners their biggest lead of the match, 23-13. Serra had one last gasp, winning three straight points, but the Miners eventually closed out the Padres, 25-15.
But that late, three-point spurt gave the Padres some confidence going into the fourth set.
“That third set, we weren’t as focused,” Anthony said. “But we decided to turn it up and fight.”
Serra opened the fourth set with Ronan blasting away with three early kills on his way to seven in the game. Rees added five more and they always came at the biggest moments. His kills gave Serra leads of 7-6 and 8-7. His third of the game tied it at 12-all and his fourth put the Padres up 14-13.
The Padres didn’t trail again. That Rees kill started a 5-0 run for the Padres, putting them up 18-13. Nevada Union had one last run in it as won six straight points to tie the game at 19-all, but following a Serra timeout, the Padres finished with a flurry, winning six of the final seven points to close out the match.
“Our team just had a mental turning point (in Game 4),” Anthony said. “There was a lot more fight and fire (in that final set).”