By Jeremy Balan
Sacred Heart Cathedral’s girls volleyball team didn’t have its cleanest match in the second round of the CIF State Division III playoffs against visiting Drake on Saturday.
However, when the Pirates challenged Sacred Heart in the third game and threatened to extend the match, the Irish didn’t flinch.
Sacred Heart eliminated two separate four-point deficits in the third game and fought back from a Drake game-point opportunity to seal a 25-14, 25-22, 26-24 win.
The win also sends the Irish (32-7) to the Northern California title game to face North Coast Section champion Albany.
“I think they’re really confident,” said Sacred Heart head coach Margi Beima. “We knew that Drake was not going to roll over. They’re too tough of a team. It wasn’t the cleanest [match], but ultimately they stayed tough when they had game point.”
Down 24-23 in the third game, Sacred Heart outside hitter Courtney Wong connected on two consecutive kills to give the Irish a 25-24 lead, then a Drake (20-10) attack sailed out of bounds to seal the match.
“We didn’t give up. We wanted to finish it out and we just tried as hard as we could,” Wong said. “We really try to be strong mentally and be strong in those situations.”
Wong’s final attacks capped a standout night for the junior, who finished with a team-high 15 kills after a relatively slow start. Wong only had two kills in the first game, but tallied seven in the second and six in the third.
“Courtney has a really fast arm swing and if they give her any sort of line, she can usually get it,” Beima said. “She didn’t have a great game one, but her transition got better. When she does that, she sees the whole court, she see’s the blockers and she can really execute some great balls.”
Wong was the hot hand for the Irish and Drake senior middle blocker Melanie Stoner provided most of the offense for the Pirates.
Stoner dueled with Wong in the third game, recording eight kills, and tallied a match-high total of 17.
“We knew they were going to feed her, even in the back row,” Beima said. “We put one of the guys in a No. 5 jersey in practice. We put him all over the court and just set him over and over [to prepare].”
Wong’s right arm may have carried the Irish late, but early on it was the Irish block that did the most damage.
The Irish tallied 11 point-scoring blocks in the match, led by a match-high six from freshman middle blocker Madison Murtagh.
“They’re probably the best team we’ve played all year,” said Drake head coach John Hedlund. “They play phenomenal defense and when you’re sending all those attacks their way, there is only so much you can do. Stoner was just about as unstoppable as she has been all year, but they just played well. They’re just a great team.”
The Irish have not lost a game in any match during the Central Coast Section playoffs or in the first two rounds of the state playoffs, but at this level, every opponent is a quality team and Sacred Heart will not be taking third-seeded Albany lightly.
“Every team we face is going to be different and we’re going to be ready,” Beima said. “Even if it goes to five [games], we’re going to battle.”