VOLLEYBALL: Playoff bound: Mustangs earn No. 5-seed in Div. 1 bracket

Go mustangs!

The Mustangs will host Saint Francis-Mountain View on
Gilroy High boys volleyball third-year co-head coaches Scott Martin and Josh Corioso, teammates at GHS in 2002, repeated “finally,” pumping their fists and as they congratulated each of their players.

Asked if he was happy, middle blocker Robby Filice, leaning back, head tilted to the roof for emphasis, bellowed, “oh yeah,” his answer echoing through a nearly abandoned Watsonville High School gymnasium Friday night.

Those remaining were all celebrating one thing: a Gilroy High boys volleyball Tri-County Athletic League championship – the program’s first.

The hooting and hollering lasted well beyond the final point – a hoopla years in the making.

“They worked their butts off,” Martin said. “Josh and I kind of tweaked our coaching approach, how we ran practice, running the program this season. It’s was almost kind of a mom and dad, in your face, chewing you out, nagging you all the time. The kids put up with it because they understood that at the end of the day it was all for one reason.”

That one reason – dethroning perennially dominant Monterey, which owns five of the last six league titles.

Determined to avoid a repeat of last season, where the Mustangs fell shy in their bid to claim a share of the league crown in the regular-season finale against Monterey, GHS looked unfazed from the get go.

“After last year, we wanted to beat them,” senior setter Gavin Menges said.

In convincing fashion, capped by a rousingly lopsided fourth set, the Mustangs emphatically defeated the Toreadors, 25-20, 17-25, 25-21, 25-14.

“I can’t wait to see that banner,” added Menges, who posted 40 assists.

GHS navigated through a newly formed two-division TCAL and came out on the other side with a 15-1 regular-season league record, earning the No. 1-seed out of the Coastal Division, heading into an inaugural four-team postseason tournament.

A 3-1 win over Seaside on last Thursday set up Friday’s grudge match with its rival – the team that handed GHS its lone league loss – for the championship.

“We knew were going to get it,” senior A.J. Been said. “We were so confident.”

Behind 10 kills from senior Dietrich Baumgartner, the Mustangs shot out of the gates en route a relatively smooth 25-20 win.

“I think we just want to play as hard as we can all the time,” Baumgartner said.

But Monterey, with a front line that ranks with the TCAL’s best, found a formula that worked in the second set – a heavy dose of Steven Dorsey. The 6-foot-4 middle blocker ripped five kills right up the gut down the stretch to help the Toreadors to the 25-17 set win.

“I kind of liked the fact that Monterey took Game 2,” Martin said. “It was like another test. Are we going to stand up and fight with them or back down? It was good to see them gut it out.”

Tied 1-set-all, a pivotal third set turned the Mustangs’ way, and a late 18-18 deadlock shifted to 25-21 and a 2-sets-to-1 match lead in favor of the Mustangs.

“I knew we had to get it and get ahead right there,” Baumgartner said.

The momentum swing translated into the fourth set as GHS pushed Monterey against the wall, leading by as many as 12, before closing out the match by 11.

“If we were going to turn the corner, we were going to have to play defense, serve tough and we’re going to have to serve-receive,” Martin said. “If we could do that, we could play with anybody. It was nice to see all of that come together at the right time.

“I feel like there is a resolve with the team and a willingness to battle. It’s what makes this team special. They truly deserve this.”

Baumgartner recorded a game-high 25 kills, bringing his season total to 418. Filice, Been and Connor Escobar contributed six kills each. For Monterey, Mat Nuttall and Nate Malone led the way with 15 and 16 kills, respectively.

The merriment reached beyond the current 2010-11 roster and forever extinguished the heartache of past teams getting so close to what at times seemed like an unattainable milestone.

Ten years ago, coaches Craig Martin and Jay Baksa, resurrected the GHS boys program from obscurity. The duo filled coaching voids and assisted the program back to its feet.

Since then, the Mustangs have finished as the league’s runner-up four times, including the past the previous two seasons under Scott Martin and Corioso.

“There’s been so many close calls in the last eight years,” said Scott Martin (Craig’s son), “This is a win for everybody, but most importantly for (the current players.)

Less than 24 hours after celebrating its first league championship, the GHS received a first-round bye and the No. 5-seed in the Central Coast Section Division I playoff bracket.

The Mustangs (21-6) will host the second-round match, welcoming Saint Francis out of the West Catholic Athletic League on Thursday at 7 p.m. The No. 4 Lancers posted a 27-8 mark during the regular season.

Bellarmine (32-7), Los Gatos (33-3) and Mountain View (22-4) are seeded Nos. 1 through 3, respectively.

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