Lady Falcons rally past Escalon to reach section finals

Forest Lake heads to Division VI title match
By: Mike Ray
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COLFAX– It’s no secret that some of the best small school volleyball in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section is played in the Trans Valley League. Year in and year out the TVL produces top-notch teams including the likes of Hilmar, Escalon and Ripon.

So, Tuesday night at Pucci Pavilion in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal when visiting Escalon took the first set over Colfax, and then raced out to a 12-1 lead in the second set, it looked like it might be lights out for the Lady Falcons.

“They were a tough team but we just had to get settled down and play our game,” said Colfax coach Haley Biles after her No. 2 seed Lady Falcons rallied to pull out a stunning 22-25, 27-25, 25-19, 27-25 win over the No. 6 seed Cougars. “The girls did a great job all night long.”

The victory for Colfax, last season’s section D-V champions, moves the Lady Falcons into their second straight section title match. Colfax will play No. 1 seed Hilmar for the D-IV crown Saturday at 3 p.m. at Ripon High School.

Hilmar, 31-12 on the season, advanced to the final via a 25-8, 25-12, 25-22 sweep over No. 5 seed Ripon Tuesday night. Hilmar will be playing in its sixth straight CIF D-IV championship match.

“Hilmar is an outstanding team,” said Biles. “They’ve beaten teams like Granite Bay and Del Oro. But we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

For Colfax, the Lady Falcons looked like they were going to pay dearly for another one of their trademark slow starts. In the first set, the Lady Falcons fell behind 18-11 before rallying to tie the set at 20-all before eventually succumbing, 25-22.

Things then looked really bleak for the Green and White when Escalon stormed out to a 12-1 advantage in the second set. However, suddenly for Colfax, improved setting led to kills that started finding their marks.

Led by efforts from Grace Bliss, Halle Neumann, Hanna Hinrichs, Keegan O’Sullivan Jacy Dean and Kayla Beebe, Colfax clawed back with a 14-4 run and finally caught the Cougars at 20-20.

From there, the set was tied again at 21-21 before three straight points put Escalon at match point with a 24-21 advantage. However, Colfax rallied in crunch time and after tying the set at 25, tallied the last two points for the pivotal win.

In the third set, riding the momentum of its exciting comeback win, Colfax jumped out to leads of 10-3 and 18-6 before Escalon rallied behind 5-foot-10 freshman Amanda Murphy, who entered the match with 365 kills, to make thing interesting.

However, after closing to 23-18, the Lady Falcons and Cougars traded points before a Neumann kill gave Colfax a 25-19 advantage and the decision.

The fourth set was another barn-burner punctuated by spirited rallies as the set was tied 11 times including the last at 25-25 before Colfax again mustered the last two clinching points.

Bliss was a force for the winners as she connected on 19 kills. Neumann added 17 kills and 28 assists while Dean powered home 13 more kills.

Also steady for the Lady Falcons were libero Hailee Mulic with 22 digs and Sara Detwiler and Nellie Balk with 12 each.


Forest Lake Christian 3, Big Valley Christian 2

In another comeback effort, Forest Lake rallied from two sets down to take a 22-25, 23-25, 25-17, 25-21, 15-12 win over Big Valley Christian in a D-VI semifinal played at Lake of the Pines.

The victory moves the Falcons into Saturday’s noon D-VI championship match at Ripon High School against No.1 seed Stone Ridge Christian of Merced. Stone Ridge turned back Sacramento Country Day, 25-10, 25-13, 25-15 in the other semifinal Tuesday. It will be Forest Lake’s first CIF section title appearance since 2006.

Forest Lake senior Lily Sween sparkled in the win as she drove home a season-high 21 kills and also came up with seven blocks and four aces.

"We knew it was going to be a tough match,” said Forest Lake Christian coach Travis Smith. "We knew every single point was going to be big.”

Also playing big in the win for the Falcons (24-5) were Taylor Dunn, who put down nine more kills and Bella O'Neill, who handed out  22 assists and also led the defense with 21 digs.


St. Mary’s 3, Del Oro 1

Del Oro’s Cinderella run through the D-II bracket came to an end in Stockton as the Lady Eagles fell in four games to the No. 2 seed Rams, 18-25, 25-20, 25-14, 25-15.

Del Oro, seeded in the No. 6 position, opened the tournament with victories over Rio Americano and River Valley before being sidetracked by the Rams.

St. Mary’s was led by 6-foot-1 junior Anya Green’s 16 kills and 14 more from Emma Miller to overpower the Lady Eagles. Del Oro will now await word from the CIF on where they will land in next week’s Northern California Regional tournament.