The ball seemed to hang there forever, looping through the still air of the Lady Jag gym after Leigha Brown had pounded a killer spike off a dig. But when it came down, it hit the ground on the San Benito side, and a seriously strenuous first-round playoff victory was in the bag.
Econ’s four-set win over the Lady Greyounds Tuesday sent them into the second round of the playoffs, but getting there was anything but easy against a third-place unit from District 32-5A that took the first set and challenged the home side all night.
But thanks to the usual exploits of Brown and senior Kayla Silva, plus some well-timed contributions from the rest of the girls, Econ survived to advance to the area round against McAllen Memorial Thursday.
Deissy Sauceda was one of the key role players Tuesday, as she provided strong net play at the middle blocker slot, while senior libero Kayla Longoria hustled like a demon and fired her teammates up when they needed it most.
Sauceda, who played most of the season for EHS, has returned to the Orange lineup with a bang.
“We moved houses again last month,” explained the gutty junior. “So when I came back here I was used to this team. Everything was OK at EHS but it was hard to get comfortable with that team. Now I feel like I was coming home again.”
With Sauceda blocking and hitting well from front and center, the Lady Jags were able to pull it out after losing 25-18 early. Coach Celi Rios-Ortega noted that the Lady ‘Hounds, paced by huge 6-foot-2 junior Kassandra Sanchez, came to play.
“This was a big test for us, to see if we could hold our composure and come back,” said the coach, whose team is now 26-5 for the season. “San Benito made us play their game to start, they got us out of our offense. But they stopped hitting so well later, and we were ready to get it going.”
After San Benny took the first set, Econ took stride in Game Two, with Brown and Silva scoring regularly and Sauceda looking very smooth in the middle. Her kill made it 19-9 and the athletic Silva followed with four winners in a row to put away a 25-16 tying set.
Longoria, who ranged side to side for a number of thrilling saves, battled with the devastating Sanchez all night and admitted that the long-legged junior had a great game.
“I was trying to get to her, but it was really hard to stay on my line,” said the senior firecracker. “San Benito came over and acted like it was their gym, we didn’t react well at first but gradually we did. It was really loud tonight, you could hardly hear out there.”
Game Three was all San Benny at first, as Econ fell behind 9-4, Sanchez dominating the action. But Silva got the party started with three kills after a scoring block from Sauceda, and Econ assumed a 12-11 lead with some outstanding teamwork. Sauceda notched a smart putdown followed by a sizzling Silva slam that scattered the Lady ‘Hound cheerleaders on the baseline and bounced off the wall with a smack.
After SB rallied back, Britney Curiel made a super save leading to a hard tip score from Brown and a 17-15 advantage. This game was super competitive, as Brown and Silva starred against a Lady ‘Hound team that rose well and hit on the apex. It ended up 23-all with ties at 24 and 25 also, as both teams played at a championship level.
Kayla Banda provided a huge score to end a long sequence of superb play, with the crowd going crazy. This made it 26-25 and after a Silva smash, the Lady Jags had taken the all-important third set.
“Kayla [Silva] had some tough moments tonight, the whole team did. But she kept her cool,” said Rios-Ortega of her dependable senior star. “She is so mature now, she doesn’t let anything get her down, and she was one of the keys to our win tonight.”
Facing elimination for the season, San Benito got off to a 7-6 lead in Game Four until an opportunistic Sauceda won at net to make it 7-all. Soon, Silva and Brown scored to sandwich two Lady Greyhound errors and make it 13-9, but later, the visitor surged to within one at 20-19.
On the next play, Longoria made the move of the night, sprinting to the right sideline to one-hand a scorcher back into the middle, over her head, and Silva popped it down for the 2-point lead.
Still, SB would later rally into a 23-22 advantage before Silva, who had mishit twice minutes before, showed her mettle with consecutive kills. Brown’s big kill off a dig finally came down to earth, and with it went a fierce San Benito team that gave the Orange all it could handle before being subdued.
The program’s fourth playoff appearance in five years thus yielded a thrilling first-round win, with the surprising Sauceda enjoying a fantastic delayed homecoming at the right time.
“I just try to play my best when I get the chance,” she commented afterward. “I want to show the coaches that I can play, and that I deserve the chance. It felt good to go in there and contribute to the team’s win tonight.”
NOTES: The other two city teams dropped out of the playoffs Tuesday, with North losing a close 5-setter at home to Brownsville Rivera (17-10) and EHS getting pounded on the road at Los Fresnos (28-4). The Lady Cougars (22-8) rallied to win Game Four but were handled 15-5 in the clincher, while the Lady Bobcats finished 20-13 for the season.
The Lady Jags bowed out Thursday to top-ranked Memorial after a 5-set marathon. Silva made 27 kills in the loss while Brown was outstanding all-around. The program has now made the playoffs five years in a row and six of seven, with three trips to the area round.
News was good from San Antonio Saturday, as the Lady Bobcat cross country team did well enough to earn a trip to state, with North coming close but missing out by one place.