The Pitman High volleyball team notched their first victory of the 2016 Division I Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs Tuesday night with a 3-0 straight set sweep of the Modesto High Panthers, dominating the court on the first step of their journey to a third consecutive section title.
“It was nice to win in the first round and get out the jitters,” said head coach Kristen Pontes-Christian. “I know the next round is going to be tough, so just to get the momentum of winning the first game is huge.”
Pitman entered the playoffs as the No. 4 seed, while Modesto came into the tournament as No. 13. The Pride, with a 24-7 overall record coming into playoffs, did not underestimate the 22-12 Panthers, but instead focused on doing things right from their side of the court.
“I just told them that no matter what happens on their (Modesto’s) side, we need to keep a good tempo and stay in the game, focused and ready to go mentally,” said Pontes-Christian.
The Pride came out strong in the match’s first two sets, and refused to let the Panthers score more than 10 points in either.
While the first set began evenly-matched, Pitman pulled ahead on a six-point scoring run and never looked back, winning 25-10. The set’s ending was capitalized by an ace from Denae Finney, and Whitney Barnes displayed dominance with several key kills. Barnes went on to finish the night with 12 kills and one block.
The game’s second set was won 25-10 by the Pride, and the team improved upon their impressive first set win. The Panthers were able to score first, but did not score again until after an exciting 12-point scoring run from the Pride. Triumph at the end of a lengthy rally toward the end of the second set came by way of a kill from Fallon Evans, who also had 11 digs and one ace on the night.
“The first two sets were really good,” said Pontes-Christian. “We controlled the game, so I want to build on those first two sets going into the next round of playoffs.”
Though the Pride sailed through the first two sets of the game with little resistance from the Panthers, Modesto fought back during the game’s third set. It was a back and forth of points between the two teams for a majority of the set’s start, led by kills from Pitman’s Barnes and Yisel Perez and Modesto’s Tori Galloway. Pitman jumped forward thanks to an eight-point scoring run, but with the score 23-12, the Panthers fought back with their own seven-point run. The Pride was able to scratch across the set’s final two points, however, winning 25-20.
As Modesto mounted a comeback in the third set, Pontes-Christian didn’t call time out — instead, she let the girls on the court handle the situation.
“I trust them,” said Pontes-Christian. “I trust that everyone is going to do their job and do what they need to do.”
Compared to the game’s first two sets, the problems which caused the close score of the third set are something that Pontes-Christian hopes the team can work out before Thursday’s match against Vacaville High.
“We need to cut down on our errors,” she said. “I think we got a little bit comfortable, which we can’t do against any team because it’s one loss and you’re eliminated.”
The Pride will take on the 23-3 Vacaville Bulldogs at 7 p.m. in the Pitman High School gymnasium. Luckily for Pitman, they won’t have to look very far to find motivation to win.
“Looking at the section banner up there on the wall and just knowing that we want to get to the section championship again, every ball counts, every play counts and every point counts,” said Pontes-Christian.