Hart boys volleyball beats St. Francis in CIF-SS wild-card game

Hart senior Ezra Moore goes up for the kill in a playoff matchup with St. Francis at Hart High School Monday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Taking a while to find its rhythm in the first game against St. Francis, Hart boys volleyball put its mettle to the test in Monday’s home CIF-Southern Section Division 2 Boys Volleyball Playoff wild-card game.

Needing fives games to advance, the Indians found a will to win, beating the Golden Knights 25-21, 25-23, 23-25, 17-25, 15-12.

“We definitely came out slow, but we were able to turn it around at the right time and generate some good energetic runs,” said Hart head coach Loy Mueller. “We were just taking care of it in the first two sets. We were playing our volleyball and playing comfortably and it was good.”

Leading for the majority of the first game, St. Francis allowed Hart to score three straight points to tie the game at 15-15. After a Jake Meyers kill, the Indians took their first lead of the game up 19-18.

A couple of points later, back-to-back blocks by St. Francis tied the game at 21-21. Playing spirited offense, the Indians shut out the Golden Knights the rest of the way scoring the final four points of the game to take a one-game lead.

Hart entered the second game with confidence and it showed, as it took an early 6-3 lead after one of five Meyers aces on the night.

Gavin Leising teamed up with setter Sawyer Tengberg to provide high-flying kills while Ezra Moore showed his versatility through his setting and killing abilities.

“They bring a great dynamic of always having a ball handler on the court to take care of that second ball,” Mueller said of Tengberg and Moore. “They both are explosive hitters and servers and they bring a lot of dynamics to our team that is really unique.”

Tengberg finished the match with 18 assists and four kills while Moore had eight kills and dished out four assists.

Holding a 2-0 game lead, Hart seemed to get a little too confident, needing just one more game to seal the win and allowed St. Francis to slowly but steadily build a four-point lead at 11-7.

After some calls going in the Golden Knights’ favor, the Indians came back and tied the game at 19-19 and took a 21-20 lead, the first since opening the game up 1-0.

Hart tied the game once again at 22-22, but committed two hitting errors and a serving error to drop the third game.

The fourth game was all St. Francis due to multiple communication errors and sloppy play by the Indians to force a winner-take-all fifth game.

Making a statement in the final game, Leising set the tone early with his length and fierce killing abilities. propelling the Indians to an early 6-4 lead.

After a Cesar Maldonado ace, the Indians rattled off five of the next six points, forcing St. Francis to call a timeout down 11-5 in order to keep the game from slipping away.

The Golden Knights scored three straight points out of the timeout to make it 11-8 and three of the following five points to get within two points of the Indians.

Two points was the closest that St. Francis got to overtaking the Hart lead and Moore sealed the fifth game and the match laying down a pinpoint kill down the right sideline to win 15-12.

“Definitely those third and fourth sets gave us a little bit of a scare, but if you trust in your players and if you trust in your teammates to do their job and you do your job, it will all come out in the end in your favor if you fight your hardest,” Moore said of the win.

Leising led the team with 18 kills while Meyers and Moore followed with eight each and Mitchell Ensing had seven.

Hart advances to the first round of CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs to play the No. 1 overall seed Saddleback Valley Christian Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Saddleback Valley Christian.

“It means progress from last year,” Tengberg said. “We went 5-5 last year and it was a great year, but this year we wanted to improve, as we did. We got a wild-card bid and now we are here and we are going to see what happens.

“It was a team effort, honestly. It’s just one person who starts it. Once you start a fire it’s going to spread.”

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