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Baptista leads the way for Jackets' third straight title appearance
Hilmar volley
The Hilmar High volleyball team celebrates after defeating Bear River on Tuesday to move on to the Division IV Section finals. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ / The Journal

The tables are set for a rematch of the previous two Division IV CIF Sac-Joaquin Section volleyball championship games.

Emily Baptista and the No. 2 Hilmar [36-6] Yellowjackets defeated No. 3 Bear River [38-4] in a 3-0 sweep in Tuesday’s semifinal meeting, and Sonora ran through Ripon to schedule the third consecutive meeting in the Section title game between the two teams over the last three seasons.

“Here we go again,” said Hilmar head coach Patti Harris, whose team won a decisive semifinal, 25-18, 25-17 and 25-18. “This is by far the best game we have played all year.”

Heading into the game, Bear River had disputed their seeding below Hilmar. The Yellowjackets went into Tuesday's game determined to prove why they were the second seeded team in the bracket.

Baptista paved the way for her teammates who along with the 6-foot-2 standout were just untouchable in every facet of the game.

“Everyone came out and did their job. The defense was just super tight tonight; they picked up on everything fairly easy for the most part,” said Harris. “We clicked on all cylinders and were covering everything. Not a lot of errors on our part and we really were in control for most of the game.”

Hilmar contained Bear River, which never took the lead.

Baptista had a game-high 24 kills to go with her three aces. Erin Benning, who is over 6-feet tall, had her best game of the year, tallying three critical blocks and was a stalwart up at the net with her height advantage.

“I thought we played awesome. Everybody worked together and that is how it works, that is how we made it work,” said Benning. “We had fun out there and I think that helped us play better.”

Mariah Ahid, Hannah Pearce, Danielle Couchman, Sara Theodozio and Avery Martin also played big roles for the ‘Jackets, staying consistent for the entire game.

“I think Bear River lit a fire under us after they said some things that really made us want to beat them,” said Martin, who had a team best 19 digs. “I know we wanted to keep it up and we knew they were a good team so we had to step it up since we couldn’t play like we had before.”

Pearce tacked on a game-high 29 assists and the Yellowjackets steamrolled into their seventh consecutive win, including their third straight sets victory in the postseason.

“The girls were mentally prepared for them. It helped that we had a good practice the day before,” said Harris. “They came out ready to play and determined to win in straight sets.”

Hilmar will now play the No. 1 seed in the bracket and the Section champions over the last two years in Sonora at Tokay at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

“I think we have to keep the same mentality like we did coming into this game,” Martin added.
“We had high intensity and high energy, which we lacked in the first two rounds so if we keep that up against Sonora then we should be able to compete with them.”

“If we play the way we did tonight, then we can definitely win,” Harris added.