Saugus girls volleyball goes down to the wire with Taft

Saugus senior Carleigh Johnson dives dor a ball in a matchup with Taft at Saugus High School Wednesday evening. Cory Rubin/The Signal

In a sweltering hot Saugus gym, Taft had pushed the Centurions girls volleyball team to five games, then made the night even longer by going point-for-point in the final game.

Because of the pace of the match, first-year varsity player and dual-sport athlete Sharon Tomei had some hesitation when she went up for a kill for the match point.

“I wasn’t sure if I should hit the last ball because it’s such an iffy game,” Tomei said.

The junior went up for it anyway and smashed a kill from the front row — her second in a row — to win the game 17-15 and get Saugus the win in five.

“It was really special, just everyone screaming,” Tomei, who also plays softball, said. “It was really helpful to like my confidence in everything.”

The Centurions lost 10 seniors to graduation last season, but there has been no dropoff in grit with 10 seniors on this season’s team. Saugus picked up a 25-19 win in the first set but then had to bounce back from losses in the following two.

Saugus senior Jackie Ibarra goes up for the kill in a matchup with Taft at Saugus High School Wednesday evening. Cory Rubin/The Signal

In the second game, the Toreadors were able to mount a 9-3 lead out of the gate and kept the momentum throughout the game with Amiree Hendricks-Walker and Nieko Thomas attacking from multiple spots on the court. It forced Saugus to adjust its game, which usually relies on the middle.

“We quickly realized it wasn’t going to work today and so we had to adjust our game plan and really rely on the pins to do the work and they really stepped up,” said coach Zach Ambrose. “We learned from the second and third game that the middles aren’t going to work like it normally does.”

The Centurions dropped Game 2 25-15 and kept making adjustments through Game 3, but fell 25-17.

They got an early push in the fourth game on a double block from Jackie Ibarra and Lauryn Thompson to make it 3-1, but Taft was able to steadily add points until the score was knotted at 7-7.

Saugus regained the advantage at 11-10 on a kill from an ace from Milani Lee. The Cents clung to the lead and went on a four-point scoring run to secure it.

After the score turned to 15-10 on a block from Brianna Plunk and Melanie Goeres, Ibarra was able to execute a block and two kills by the time the final game score read 25-16.

Saugus senior Brianna Plunk tips the ball over the net in a matchup with Taft at Saugus High School Wednesday evening. Cory Rubin/The Signal

“Even when she has a down period, maybe a lull in her play, she always has a tendency to find her way back and keep battling and she’s very tough that way,” Ambrose said of Ibarra.

Game 5 went down to the wire as neither team had a clear advantage throughout. An Ibarra ace brought the score to 6-4, then a Toreador error moved the score to 7-4.

Taft scored four straight points to turn the advantage in their favor, but Saugus didn’t roll over, keeping pace with the Toreadors until the end.

With a 15-15 score, Tomei went for her back-to-back kills to bring her total to 10 on the evening.

“I think we kind of got a little into ourselves and we had a lot of confidence, which is always important,” Tomei said of the first and second games, “but I think we had too much and they came out even stronger the next set, so it was important for us to come back.”

Ibarra paced the team with 24 kills and added 11 digs. Lee, a freshman, had 41 assists, Bella Embleton had 25 digs and Carleigh Johnson added 10 digs.

The Centurions next play El Camino Real tonight at home at 5:30 p.m.

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