Like most games have been all year for the Gavilan volleyball team, the first round of the Nor-Cal playoffs was a tough grind for the Rams, even when it didn’t need to be.
After giving away early leads in both the first and second games, the Rams survived to defeat Taft on Tuesday 3-2 (22-25, 25-27, 25-13, 25-17, 21-19) and advance to the second round where they will play No. 1 Fresno City College in Fresno at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Nothing was easy, though, at Bill Christopher Court on Tuesday. In the fifth set, Gavilan, who led 13-8 early, gave Taft five different chances to clinch the win before Tasmin Apple, Kayce Skocko and Sabina Gerard, who set a Gavilan record with 57 assists, helped the Rams come from behind for the 21-19 final game win.
The Rams raced out to early lead in the deciding set with great play from Skocko, who finished with a 14 kills, and Poullikaeeva Latu, who scored a game-high 17 kills.
Latu energized the Rams throughout the night, getting big kills when Gavilan needed it the most. In the final set, Skocko and Latu proved to be the Rams one-two punch, as each player traded kills in the final moments.
Eventually, though, Taft made another run at Gavilan, who fell behind 15-14, despite holding a 13-8 lead.
Each team traded the next 10 points, before Gavilan strung tougher consecutive kills to win 21-19. The final point game when Jessica Stofer lifted the ball over the net and handcuffed a Cougar defender.
In front of a large Gavilan crowd, the win was a difficult, hard fought battle, head coach Kevin Kramer said.
“It got to a point where there was nothing else we could do but sit there and watch,” he said of the final set. “We could call a time-out and put in some subs but they were playing okay. So you just hope you taught them well and they show up and finish.”
He continued: “They made it way tougher than they needed to but we got it.”
The Rams played that way throughout the night. In the opening set, Gavilan ran out to an 17-9 lead, but Taft came roaring back to score 16 of the next 21 points to win.
The same thing happened in the second game, as the Rams led 24-22 but they could never get the game-winning point. Instead, Taft rallied to take five of the next six points.
“It hasn’t been easy all year,” Kramer said. “We’ve made it hard on ourselves all year. It does matter how good the team is, we fought all year long. Why would this be any different?”
Gavilan settled down in the next two sets to gain an early lead and run away from Taft, trailing only at the outset of game four and at the end of the final game.
The Rams, though, will need to play better if they are going to advance past the 23-1 Fresno team, Kramer said.
“I want to see a whole lot of the same,” he said. “But we have to be a little smarter. We need to miss less serves. We had some bad serves at some bad times tonight.”å
Gavilan’s best season came to an end Tuesday in the second round of the North Region Community College playoffs. The Rams, seeded No. 10, lost 3-1 at No. 2 San Francisco City College.
“I am really happy with how far we made it,” said Gavilan coach Justin Johnson. “I am proud of being able to build something for the community and put Gilroy’s name on the map.”
Gavilan qualified for the playoff for the first time. And it was the first lost in eight games for the Rams.
“Everyone is proud of themselves and what they did this year,” Johnson said. “What makes this team great is they never like to lose. They hate to lose more than they like winning.”
Gavilan fell behind 2-0 early in the game but then stepped up the intensity.
“That kind of woke us up,” Johnson said. “We started off less than stellar. It was not how we wanted to play. But we were feeling pretty good coming out of the half.”
The Rams went into halftime down 2-0 after Alejandro Gaeta just missed on a scoring chance.
Miles Mammen scored on a header off a pass from Fabian Ruiz in the first three minutes to cut the deficit in half.
“San Francisco did a good job of weathering the storm and absorbing our pressure,” Johnson said.
Eric Saavedra made a great save on a set piece in the second half, and Eddie Moya stepped up his game at the center midfield spot.
But San Francisco scored with 15 minutes left on a breakaway to put the game away.