By Jeremy Balan
SAN JOSE – There was no doubt where the ball was going on the final two points of Sacred Heart Cathedral’s semifinal matchup with Pacific Collegiate of Santa Cruz in the Central Coast Section Division II boys volleyball semifinals on Saturday.
Locked in a 13-13 tie in the deciding fifth game, Sacred Heart setter Ryan Nievera found outside hitter Nicholas Dailey for his 27th and 28th kills of the match to seal a 25-14, 24-26, 26-24, 22-25, 15-13 win at Independence High School.
The game-winner came on a kill from the right side, but on the crucial point to give the Irish a 14-13 lead, Nievera set Dailey three straight times. The first two came on the right side, but on the third, Dailey swung around through the middle of the court and cranked the ball to the floor.
“I wasn’t expecting to get it three times in a row, but I went for it,” Dailey said. “We had a couple of hitters that weren’t on and our starting right side wasn’t here today, so I kinda took over and assumed the role the main hitter, I guess.”
The Irish (24-12) had 11 players record kills, but other than Dailey, none recorded more than nine. Dailey had two kills in the first game, eight in the second, seven in the third, six in the fourth and five in the fifth.
“Throughout the season, whenever we need a go-to player, it’s been Nick,” said Sacred Heart head coach Nga Tran. “He’s done a great job this season, defensively as well as offensively.”
The fifth game, like every game other than the first, was tightly contested and featured nine ties and five lead changes.
The Pumas (25-7) held a 9-7 advantage, then after a Sacred Heart timeout, the Irish went on a 5-0 run to take a 12-9 lead. Pacific Collegiate then called a timeout and responded with a 4-0 run to pull ahead 13-12. Tran took her final timeout and the Irish went on a 3-0 run to end the game.
The Irish cruised to an easy win in game one, but each following game was a dogfight. There were 11 ties and seven lead-changes in game two, the Irish battled back from 23-19 deficit in game three and Pacific Collegiate held off another late Sacred Heart rally in game four.
“It’s been that kind of season for us,” Tran said. “Everything has been point-for-point. We have the depth on our bench, so when somebody’s off we are able to get somebody else to go in and get it done.”
The third-seeded Irish will take on top-seeded Mt. Madonna of Watsonville, which took down fifth seed Willow Glen in the other semifinal, in the Division II championship game on Tuesday.
Sacred Heart has never won a CCS title in boys volleyball, while Mt. Madonna won it’s only title in 2002 and lost to St. Ignatius in the Division II title game last season.
Sacred Heart lost a tournament game to Mt. Madonna 25-16, 25-18 in early March, but did not play a full match against the Hawks this season.
“It’s going to be a tough one for us,” Tran said. “We had a hard time playing them at the beginning of the season, but I think that we’ve grown since then. We’ll see, but I think it’s going to be a battle like this.”