Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera middle blocker Ali Escheik goes up for a block on Sunnyside’s Ethan Her during Tuesday’s semifinal victory.
In defense of its Div. II Valley Championship, the Madera Coyotes boys volleyball team ran into a little roadblock in the semifinals in Joe Flores gym.
Despite the scrappy third seeded Sunnyside-Fresno Wildcats, the biggest scare came when UC Irvine recruit Brian Garcia went down with a knee injury.
Garcia went down early in the second set and the Coyotes were thrown for a loop. The Wildcats scored 16 of the next 26 points to propel them to a second set victory.
However, the Coyotes came back with a big win in the third set and put away the Wildcats, 25-14, in the fourth set.
“The biggest adjustment of all was Charlie (Hernandez),” head coach Rhonda Jefferson said. “He has been back setting for the past two weeks. He made all the difference for us tonight. He even had to play the front row and swung hard. It was like Brian went down, we all went down. For as bad as we played, we only lost by three points.”
Marcos Ramos led the Coyotes with 16 kills and Hunter Brown put down 15 kills to go with five blocks. Chandler Fowler added seven kills with five blocks. Ali Escheik and Garcia had six kills each.
“Charlie got the mojo back for us and the offense got going again,” Jefferson said. “Hunter played phenomenal in the middle tonight. Marcos rose to the occasion. He came alive in game four. Brian wanted to come back game three and I told him no. He has knee spasms that kept tightening up on him.”
The Coyotes head to the Valley Championship match for the second year in a row, although it won’t be in the friendly confines of Joe Flores Gym. The Coyotes headed to Fresno to face top seed Hoover on Friday.
“It feels good,” Jefferson said. “We have our work cut out for us. Our defense was very scrappy tonight for the first time. I thought our passing was good tonight. All we needed was one touch and we got it going.”
The Coyotes got off to the early start behind three Brown kills and a Clemente Flores kill for a 5-1 lead. Sunnyside came back to tie the set at six before a Ramos side out kill.
Ribhi Abdallan served up an ace to go with four straight points. In the run, Flores and Escheik combined on a block and Garcia put down a kill for an 11-6 lead.
Garcia put down a side out kill and Escheik put down another kill to open the lead to six.
The two teams exchanged eight straight side outs. Madera got side out kills from Fowler, Garcia, Brown and Flores for a 17-11 lead.
Side out kills from Ramos and Garcia, along with a dual block from Escheik and Fowler gave the Coyotes a 21-13 lead. After a Sunnyside side out, Escheik put down a kill and Jose Hordaz served up the final three points of the set, including a kill from Angel Guillen on a dig and an ace on set point, for a 25-15 victory.
In the third set, kills from Ramos and Brown tied the set at two. That’s when Garcia went down and was replaced by Hernandez in the line-up. Sunnyside scored four straight points to take a 6-2 lead.
Despite two Fowler kills, Sunnyside opened a 12-6 lead and extended it to 19-11.
After a trade in side outs, the Wildcats opened a 22-12 lead before a missed serve.
Hordaz served up seven straight points to get the Coyotes back in the right direction. In the run, Brown recorded two solo blocks and a kill and Sunnyside hit three balls out of bounds for a 22-20 Sunnyside lead.
The Wildcats got to set point before a Brown side out kill. The Coyotes got a point when Sunnyside went out of rotation, but a kill ended the set with a 25-22 Sunnyside win.
The Wildcats got off to a quick 7-3 start in the third set. They held an 11-7 led before the Coyotes started to battle back after a Brown side out kill. Brown and Fowler put down kills and the pair combined on a dual block to cut the lead to 11-10.
Sunnyside battled back to open a 15-12 lead before a Ramos side out kill. Sunnyside kept its three-point lead despite two side out kills from Hernandez and another from Escheik.
Hernandez served the Coyotes back into the set. He had the play of the match with a diving dig that found an open spot on the Sunnyside side of the court for a point. Brown put back a Sunnyside attack for a 20-19 lead.
After the Wildcats got the side out, Ramos put down a kill for a 21-20 lead. Seth Valencia served up an ace and another point for a 23-20 lead.
Sunnyside put down two kills to tie the set at 23. Ramos put down back-to-back kills for a 25-23 victory.
Fowler and Brown opened the fourth set with kills and a 2-0 lead. Garcia re-entered the match and put down two kills for an 8-5 Coyote lead.
Sunnyside cut the lead down to two before a Fowler solo block. Ramos put down two kills and Fowler put back a Sunnyside attack after Hernandez made another diving dig for a 14-8 lead.
Brown put down a side out kill and Ramos added another while Valencia served up two points for a 17-10 lead.
An Alex Olvera-Gill side out kill led to two aces from Abdallah and a 21-12 lead.
Sunnyside got a pair of side outs, but Garcia put down back-to-back side out kills for a 23-14 lead.
Brown and Olvera-Gill combined on a dual block to get to match point and Sunnyside hit out of bounds for a 25-14 victory and send the Coyotes to their second straight championship match.