HILMAR — Fast starts are nothing new to the Hilmar volleyball team.
The Yellowjackets earned the No. 2 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 playoffs, in part, because of their ability to jump on teams early.
It’s carrying that intensity over into the second set that has troubled them. That pattern continued in Thursday night’s quarterfinal match as Hilmar eased up on the throttle enough to allow No. 7 Ripon Christian to find its legs.
Things tightened up after that, but the Yellowjackets managed to grind out a 25-12, 19-25, 26-24, 25-15 victory at home.
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Hilmar will face No. 3 Bear River, which defeated Los Banos 3-0, in the semifinals next Tuesday. The two teams split a pair of matches earlier in the season.
“The first set we normally come out pretty strong,” sophomore outside hitter Emily Baptista said. “We have a lot of energy and play with a lot of confidence. The second set we need to work on.
“For whatever reason, we just let up a little bit. Tonight, that helped get them going, but at least we finished strong.”
The Hilmar offense spread the love in the opening set with Baptista (five kills), Brittney Fielder (three), Alexis Alvernaz (two) and Lexie Victoria (two) all swinging well.
Fielder and Victoria each picked up a pair of kills during a 6-0 run that gave the Yellowjackets (36-7) a commanding 17-8 lead. Victoria finished the set off with an ace and the Hilmar crowd was rocking.
The focus and execution weren’t quite the same in the second set, and Ripon Christian (16-9) took advantage with a quick 5-1 start. The lead didn’t last, but it was the confidence boost the Knights needed to fight their way back into the match.
Teagun Manus (team-high 14 kills and 14 digs) took over for RC down the stretch. The senior recorded three big kills, a block and an ace as the Knights closed set two with a 7-1 run.
“We’re a pretty young team,” Ripon Christian coach Kara Ledeboer said. “We’ve only got four girls with any playoff experience, so it took us a little while to get going.
“We never quite got our offense in rhythm, but I was pleased with the way we fought back.”
A sloppy, but intense third set likely decided the match.
Baptista (a match-high 25 kills) tormented RC with her combination of big swings and well-timed tips as Hilmar built a 15-11 lead, but that was as much separation as either team would get.
Behind the trio of Manus, Andie Shelton (11 kills, team-high 40 assists) and Dani Erdelatz, Ripon Christian refused to go away, tying the set 24-24. A service error put Hilmar back in front, and Baptista put the set away with an ace.
RC never recovered. Four straight aces out of Haylee Pearce (match-high 41 assists and six aces) broke open the fourth set and Hilmar didn’t look back.
“It was nice to get some serves going at the end, but we’ve never missed serves like this,” Hilmar coach Patti Harris said. “This one was a little bit sloppy at times, but we did what we had to do to move on.”