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Braves hold Bears at bay, remain undefeated in SVL
The No. 1 rotation for the Hamilton High volleyball team held Pierce at bay and the Braves swept the Bears in three games Thursday in Arbuckle.
Cassie Ponke landed six aces and five kills, and Audra Jones slammed down 19 kills for the Braves, who won 25-19, 25-17 and 25-18.
"Pierce gave us a good game and made us play some defense. Tuesday we have Willows, so it's good to play Pierce because they gave us a game where we need to work on some stuff," Hamilton coach Erin Johnson said.
Johnson credited the Bears' Mariah Diaz and her lethal left hand for keeping the Braves defense on its toes.
Diaz, who collected six kills and two blocks, and Morgan Diaz, with six kills, helped Pierce bounce back from big deficits in each game but the Bears were unable to sustain their offense the entire match.
"Our hitters, whoever was on, did really well. At some points some of were on and some of us weren't so it's just whoever was doing good at the time, our setter (Madison Leighty) set to us," Mariah Diaz said.
Diaz, who is listed at 6-feet, 1-inch, said she enjoyed playing against Jones, who is 6-5 and one of the top players in the section.
"(Jones) gives us a good challenge, she's a really great player and we all just take it as she gives us a good challenge to play," Diaz said.
Hilary Brainard provided a spark on defense for the Bears and saw improvement in how her team played.
"We definitely are a team that hasn't been playing to our full capacity all the time, but we're pulling it together and we're really trying to come together as a team, which is really great," Brainard said.
Hamilton went on a seven-point run in the first game with Ponke serving, grabbing an 18-9 lead, and three more kills from Jones gave them a 21-11 advantage.
The Bears closed the gap to 23-19 with two kills by Natalie Corona, a kill by Leighty and a kill by Morgan Diaz, before sophomore Raegan Avrit gave Hamilton a side out with a kill and the Braves earned the next point to win the game.
The second game played out in similar fashion - it was close early before the Braves used a nine-point run with Ponke serving to take a 21-11 lead. Pierce once again fought back with two kills by Mariah Diaz, one kill by Karlie Talbot and a Diaz block, before Jones ended the game 25-17 with a kill of her own.
In Game 3, the Braves took an early 12-4 lead but the Bears charged back with Brainard serving and a kill by Ellen Hansen. A kill by Ponke ended the Bears run but two kills by Morgan Diaz and a kill by Mariah Diaz closed the gap to 15-13.
Jones made four kills and Erica Mercado added another to help the Braves hold off the Bears the rest of the way to seal the sweep.
Mercado finished the match with six kills and Christy Verboom added five kills for the Braves.
Playing in the Sacramento Valley League after years in the Mid-Valley League provided the Braves with a new set of challenges this season, but the team is making the adjustments well, especially now that they have seen everyone in league at least once, Ponke said.
"We kind of got it the second time around, it doesn't take much to figure them out. You've just got to know their weaknesses, who can't pass and who can pass, and just play your game."
Hamilton (19-8, 8-0 SVL) set up a critical showdown with second place Willows on Tuesday. The Honkers beat the Braves in a two-game tournament match at the Red Bluff invitational, but Hamilton won the first league match between the two teams in five games.
"Tuesday should be interesting, it should be a good game. We're all excited for it, we're going to practice hard Monday," Ponke said.
The Bears (13-6, 6-3) sit comfortably in third place with three league games remaining. Their next league match is Tuesday in Live Oak against the Lions, who are winless in league play thus far.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.