Heading into the third game of a Foothill League match between Saugus and Golden Valley girls volleyball, everything looked to be in line for the Centurions home sweep of the Grizzlies at Saugus on Tuesday.
Golden Valley had other plans in mind: fight.
Just like they did throughout the match, the Grizzlies began the third game with an unrivaled intensity that Saugus couldn’t match and prevailed to steal the third game and avoid the sweep.
Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, they couldn’t match the intensity throughout the fourth game and fell in four games: 25-16, 25-14, 27-29, 25-19.
“First two sets were awesome, we followed the game plan really well,” said Saugus head coach Zach Ambrose. “In the third set, they kept fighting and came out on fire. They wouldn’t let a ball drop and they caught us flat-footed, and we didn’t have enough. We settled down a little bit, but they kept fighting and fighting and we just made a few more plays towards the end.”
Down 2-1 to begin the first game, Saugus (17-11 overall, 4-5 Foothill League) fought back to take a 5-3 lead after captain Jackie Ibarra laid down an ace and Carleigh Johnson followed with another to extend the Saugus lead to 14-10.
Saugus’ middle-blocker Lauryn Thompson hit a kill that forced a Golden Valley timeout, down 16-11.
Grizzlies Jordan Nunez kept the visitors in the game with her kills to get within four points of Saugus, down 19-15.
Down the stretch, the Grizzlies couldn’t withstand the Saugus attack, committing costly errors that led to a game one loss.
It didn’t take long for Saugus to find the same energy that it finished the first game with as outside-hitter Sharon Tomei led the charge in the second game with a big kill and block sequence to give the Cents an 8-4 lead.
Junior middle hitter Sahliyah Ravare responded for Golden Valley (5-13, 1-8) coming up with big blocks and timely kills to keep the Grizzlies within striking range.
An ace by Saugus’ Melanie Goeres pushed the lead to double digits and forced Golden Valley to take its second timeout of the game, but it wasn’t enough as Saugus took the second game.
With the sweep on the line, Golden Valley did not lack energy and enthusiasm as they stared elimination in the face to begin the third game.
Aces by Melanie Nicholson and Kelsea Shea and a big kill by Ravare caught Saugus on its heels as the Cents went down 5-2, forcing Ambrose to call the first Saugus timeout of the match.
The Grizzlies didn’t succumb, however, as both teams traded three-point runs to stay within four points of each other with Golden Valley leading 13-9.
After a Grizzlies point, Saugus scored the following eight points led by Alanna Panganiban, who delivered three aces, to give Saugus its first lead of the game at 16-14.
“(Alanna) is always a clutch server for us, it’s one of her best skills,” Ambrose said. “I try to use it, even if she’s not on playing defense. I always try to get her in there because I know what she’s capable of.”
Golden Valley responded with Shea’s second ace of the game and third of the match to tie the game at 16-16.
Both teams went point-for-point the rest of the game, until the Grizzlies executed a huge block to make it 28-27. With game point on the line, Nicholson hammered home a kill to take the game and force a fourth set for Golden Valley.
“I think our team really appreciates being in the big moment,” said Golden Valley head coach Josh Cho. “I think every team has seen us play, play these hard 23-25, 24-26, these really tight matches with the entire league. There are still things that we need to learn, but what I love from our girls is that when the moment is the biggest, they get better and they want that pressure on them. Our girls are so good about enjoying the pressure and being able to revel in the pressure.”
To begin the fourth game, Golden Valley didn’t take its foot off the gas pedal as Nicholson delivered two aces and the Grizzlies scored seven out of the first 10 points to put Saugus in a hole.
Regrouping, the Cents fought tooth-and-nail and responded with a 7-0 run capped by two back-to-back aces by Bella Embleton to take a 10-7 lead.
Three unforced errors by Saugus tied the game at 11-11 and an ace by Camila Gil put the visitors in front.
The lead didn’t last long for Golden Valley as Saugus went on an 8-2 run and defeated the Grizzlies by the same six-point margin.
Both teams close out the regular season on Thursday with Foothill League matches as Saugus travels to Valencia at 5:30 p.m. and Golden Valley hosts Canyon at 5:15 p.m.