VOLLEYBALL: Mustangs prevail in five-set thriller

Go mustangs!

Rallying from one-set down on two occasions, the Mustangs pulled
out a scintillating five-set victory (21-25, 25-21, 25-27, 25-21,
18-16) over the non-league visitors.
This isn’t unfamiliar territory. Winning streaks aren’t anomalies in this program. Yet there is something different about this season’s Gilroy High boys volleyball team.

“This team, more than the teams of the last two years, the difference is in the way they are winning,” GHS head coach Scott Martin said prior to his squad’s non-league affair with Mt. Madonna on Wednesday. “We aren’t winning as clean, but we are finding ways to win the matches we need. They have a lot of resolve.”

The barnburner that ensued between the Mustangs and Hawks only validated Martin’s honest assessment of his players.

“The reason why we went out and got quality non-league matches is because I wanted the kids to be battled tested by the time we hit playoffs,” Martin said. “I want them to come in and be able to play a five-game match.”

Ask and you shall receive.

Rallying from one-set down on two occasions, the Mustangs pulled out a scintillating five-set victory (21-25, 25-21, 25-27, 25-21, 18-16) over the big-hitting and fundamentally sound Hawks.

Mt. Madonna handed the Mustangs a five-set loss when the two teams met last season.

“At the end of the day we are in there and giving ourselves a chance to win. And more times than not they have shown the ability to win the tight match, “Martin said. “They don’t stop playing. I couldn’t be happier. They are all playing great right now.”

Trailing in the match two-games-to-one and by four points early in the fourth set, the Mustangs surged to a 10-10 tie and eventually built a 17-14 advantage behind back-to-back blocks by senior Robby Filice.

“In the first sets I wasn’t in my mode,” said Filice, who recorded seven blocks in the match, many coming at pivotal points in the contest. “But once the third and fourth kicked in the intensity came up.”

The Hawks (15-3 overall, 7-0 in Santa Cruz Coast) evened matters at 17-all before Dietrich Baumgartner, AJ Been and John Lester had a hand in helping the Mustangs win 7 of the next 10 points to force the deciding fifth set where again GHS had to display a resiliency in bouncing back from a 12-8 deficit in the first-to-15, win-by-two sudden death set.

Baumgartner connected on four of his team-high 19 kills in the fifth while Been hammered home three kills during a Mustangs’ mini 6-1 run to give them a 14-13 lead. GHS survived to match points before finally settling the issue.

“That one was really big,” Filice said. “I’m so glad we won. It was a team effort, really, digs, blocks, hits, everything over all.”

Filice added eight kills to his stat line, Been registered 15 kills, Lester notched four kills and two blocks and Conner Escobar had three kills.

“This is our place and we had to bring it. And we brought it,” Filice said.

The Mustangs have now rattled off six wins in their last eight outings – the two setbacks coming in 2-1 losses to Blossom Valley Athletic League representatives Leland and Westmont. And at 12-3 overall and a spotless 8-0 in the Tri-County Athletic League after the victory over the Hawks on Wednesday, the Mustangs are in a familiar spot at this particular junction of the season as they were a year ago – cruising along in league. GHS made it to 11-0 in league in 2009-10, finishing 14-2 and runner-up behind TCAL champion and rival Monterey.

Surrendering just four sets en route to the tidy 8-0 league mark this year, the Mustangs are currently atop the Valley Division standings, thanks in large part to an altered approach in get-down-and-dirty situations.

“Last year was Ok, but this year we want to win league,” Filice said.

Loaded with veteran experience up front and in the back, most of the players spent the offseason playing club ball meshing with one another and developing a keen sense of each others’ movements and habits on the court.

“They all played club together and they understand that they don’t have to make every play, but when it’s their turn to need to make a play because the guy next to them is going to make their play – accountability and responsibility,” Martin said. “That’s something that has been huge for us. Make the play that gives us a shot to win. That’s all we are asking for.”

GHS resumes TCAL play against Gonzales at 6 p.m. tonight in Gilroy.

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