Spanish Springs (24-7) won the first two games, dropped the third and fourth and rallied in the fifth to advance to the North Region Championship, Saturday, with a drama-filled 25-23, 25-21, 21-25, 22-25, 16-14 win over Reno.
The postseason win was the eighth in three years for the Cougars, last year’s state champion.
“(I am) just super proud of the girls…,” Spanish Springs coach Frank Sandomenico said. “We have come so far this year. The league is stacked. We lost a ton of talent last year. We lost one of our best players and just somehow found a way to win league again, make it to the Regional Championship again. I just don’t know how you could be more proud of the group.”
The Cougars stared at the end of their season late in the deciding fifth game. Trailing 11-8 after losing three straight points, the Cougars rattled off four straight points to grab a 12-11 lead and eventually a 14-13 advantage.
Reno’s Morgan McGwire hit the next point long and the Spanish Springs bench rushed the court only to be sent back to the bench after it was ruled a Cougar tipped the ball.
McGwire, the niece of former St. Louis Cardinals’ slugger, Mark McGwire, finished with a match-high, 22 kills.
“I’ve seen that happen before at 14-14 where you think you’ve won. I mean we ran onto the court. I was actually thinking, ‘OK we are out of timeouts, we’ll have to make a sub or something to slow them down,’” Sandomenico said.
As they did often in the fifth game, the Cougars called middle blocker Gabby Szachara’s number the next play. Point: Cougars.
Szachara turned in five of her team-high, 16 kills, in the fifth game.
“It’s awesome,” Szachara said of advancing to North title game. “We always make it nail-bitters at the end there.”
Following Szachara’s finish, M’Kinna Mullen came of the bench and put the game away with an ace as the Cougars stormed the court for the second time in three points. This time they weren’t called back.
The Cougars split with the Huskies in the regular season. After dropping the first match against Reno earlier this fall, Sandomenico flip-flopped starters Kate Castro and Tayler Lodge. Spanish Springs’ coach could not say enough about the duo after the game.
“We flipped them and they both bought into and it really made us just a better team,” Sandomenico said. “I am just really proud of the way those two have stepped up.”
Kate Castro turned in a double-double with 11 kills, 10 digs, two aces and a block. Tayler Lodge narrowly missed out on a double-double of her own, with 17 digs, nine kills and a pair of aces.
With a 2-0 lead, the Cougars watched the Huskies take the third and fourth games to force the wild fifth. Tied at 15-15 in Game 3, Reno went on a 5-0 run which proved insurmountable as the Huskies won 25-21. Reno scored the final three points in Game 4 after a 22-22 stalemate to tie the match at two games apiece.
The consistent Hannah Meadows was once again crucial in the win, racking up 37 assists, 12 digs, six kills and a block and ace apiece. Libero Brandi Brucato continued her outstanding back-row play with 22 digs, three assists and an ace.
The Cougars will fight for the North title, and a state berth, against Bishop Manogue. The Sierra League champions finished 15-1 in league meetings this year. Their lone loss came at Spanish Springs.
The Miners swept McQueen Thursday night to set up Saturday’s North title match between league champions. First serve is schedule for 4 p.m. Saturday at Reno High.
“We’ve won now eight postseason games in the last three years. It’s just an incredible run,” Sandomenico said. “We’re just going to try to win No. 9 Saturday. If we try to make it more than that, we’re in trouble.
“I hope we play like we have nothing to lose, because we really don’t. We’re not supposed to be here right now and I just hope we play that way.”