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June 14, 2021

Volleyball: Balers win thriller

The last time the San Benito High girls volleyball team was involved in a five-game match, it let a lead slip away. On Saturday, the Haybalers weren’t about to let it happen again. Not with so much on the line. San Benito won a thrilling 24-26, 25-17, 25-18, 18-25, 15-12 thriller over Palo Alto in a Central Coast Section Division I playoff quarterfinal, christening the newly renovated Mattson Gymnasium.
“It was just an awesome experience playing in the new gym,” outside hitter Lauren Sabbatini said. “I’m pretty confident in this team right now. We’re a more solid team than last year, and I think we can go all the way.”
The No. 2 seed Balers (30-6) advance to a semifinal contest against No. 3 Menlo-Atherton (22-7) on Wednesday at Piedmont Hills at a time to be determined. Talk about a chance for redemption. San Benito lost to Menlo-Atherton in the same round a year ago in three games.
The Bears went on to win the Division I title. San Benito can advance to the CIF Northern California Championships with a victory on Wednesday. Against Palo Alto, the Balers received the best opponent possible: A tough team that would test them and raise their level of play.
The Vikings gave everything San Benito could handle, but the balanced Balers proved to be too much. The home team jumped out to a commanding 9-3 lead in Game 5, and it would need every bit of that cushion because Palo Alto stormed back to within one point, 10-9.
However, just as she did all night, Marisa Villegas came up with a critical kill to make it 11-9, and Camille Finley and Sabbatini followed with kills to give San Benito some breathing room at 13-10. On match point, Sabbatini hit a rolling crosscourt shot to clinch things.
“It felt really great to put a (finesse) shot in there instead of killing it,” Sabbatini said. “Me and coach at practice were working on shots, and it was nice that last point came down to a shot.”
Mixing in hard shots with soft ones, Sabbatini finished with a team-high 21 kills. Villegas had 18 kills and several nice digs, and Finley finished with 13 kills and five blocks. Haley Leifheit added eight kills and five blocks, and Lexi Chavarria also was a force at the net with five blocks.
Libero Nicole Andrade was simply sensational, coming up with several digs off hard-hit Palo Alto balls. Andrade was perfectly positioned against some of the best Palo Alto hitters, and routinely dug up balls that the team often turned into offensive attacks.
Everyone contributed to the victory, making it all the more sweet.
“Kieley (Hoskins) moved the sets around, we moved the shots around and we pulled together,” Sabbatini said.
Game 1 was a doozy, as it featured an incredible 13 ties and 14 lead changes. Even though the Balers lost the opening set, they found their rhythm in Games 2 and 3, as Hoskins utilized some quick sets to Finley with great success. San Benito also were effective with Sabbatini and Villegas pounding balls from the outside. The Balers actually practiced at 8 a.m. Saturday before going to eat together at the Country Rose Café.
“We were pretty tired after that, so we all went home and took naps,” Sabbatini said.
It obviously served the Balers well.

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