By GERARDO RECINOS
Alhambra’s girls closed out their season with a game left to play in regular season, assuring that the absolute worst-case scenario is that they’ll share the league title, but earn the automatic North Coast Section bid.
After a rare blemish this season against Berean Christian on Oct. 18, the Bulldogs picked up their play against second-placed Clayton Valley Charter-Concord on Tuesday night in a dominating 3-0 win.
With very little doubt that the Bulldog girls would win the league title, you had to imagine their was pressure on the Dogs than the Eagles. Any effort from Clayton Valley would have been a shock.
For a few minutes that shock looked like a very clear possibility.
Clayton Valley took an early 10-5 lead due to some solid work from their hitters. Alhambra looked a tiny bit out of it, but Willie Marchesano took a timeout to calm the girls down.
The timeout couldn’t have been more effective.
Alhambra instantly went on a 9-1 run that saw kills from Makenzie Salva, Sterling Parker and Gabby Chase. Sala also had an ace during the run that was the final straw that broke the camel’s back, and forced Clayton Valley to call their own timeout.
The Eagles could not overturn the deficit, and consecutive kills from Salva and Parker finished off the first set.
Rebounding from a slow start is something the girls have done a few times this season, but it was rare that they needed to do it in back-to-back sets. Until set two on Tuesday.
While 3-0 is not a large deficit, the way the Bulldogs turned it around was impressive. They reeled off a 6-0 run with a kill from Erin Silva forcing another Clayton Valley timeout.
Everything that looked less than sharp over the last week looked clean on Tuesday. The passing, which started off poorly on Tuesday, was nearly perfect from that point on.
Maddie Gray had 22 assists, and Rachel Gray had 14, and nearly all of them came from the hands of Sophia Olson, who dug out 28 balls, and only made three errors across three sets. Willie Marchesano may not move the junior back to hitter next season after the year she has had stepping in to a new position with the Bulldogs.
Clayton Valley threatened late on to steal the set from the Bulldogs, but Chase reeled off a streak of three aces in a row to quell that notion.
In set three the Bulldogs finally opened with a lead, and it was one they would not relinquish. This set was where the team looked at its best. On a couple of occasions the low beams in the gym’s ceiling effected play, but seemingly unfazed Olson found a way to keep the ball in play.
That made it easy for the hitters to finish. But at this point Clayton Valley could sense the inevitable. Their previously scrappy play became sloppy. They allowed a few shots to fall between players due to poor communication. Their serving in particular was poor, with five errors giving the Bulldogs points in moments that handed them the set, the match, and eventually the Diablo Athletic League title.