Golden Eagles bow out after marathon match

By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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SACRAMENTO — Junior setter Emily Hentschke stood in a corner of the gymnasium, sharing tears and a final embrace with seniors Kate Kessler, Erika Busch, Hannah Oros and Emily Mattevi. Sixth-ranked Del Oro High bowed out of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs Thursday night, dropping a heartbreaking five-game quarterfinal to No. 3 El Camino. “It’s crazy, because for some of us it’s the last time we’ll be playing,” Mattevi said. “We really thought we could go all the way.” The host Eagles rallied for an 11-25, 25-21, 18-25, 25-20, 15-3 victory to advance to the semifinals after dropping their playoff opener a year ago. The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, never made it back to the semis, where they fell to Oakdale in four last season. “I told them in our ending huddle that this was probably the best season we’ve ever had at Del Oro,” head coach Stu Kageta said. “It’s tough right now for them to even think about that, but I sure hope they really step back and say, ‘yeah, we had a great run.” The Golden Eagles (25-7) led 12-7 midway through the opening rout and closed on a 13-4 run. They had a 7-4 advantage in game two before the Eagles (29-6) scored six straight to pull ahead for good. Spurred by a pair of Bailey Humes aces, two soft tips by Aly Duffin and a pair of hard Mattevi kills, Del Oro jumped out to a 9-1 lead in the third game and held off a late El Camino rally to take a 2-1 lead into the fourth game. “We felt great,” Kageta said. “All the pressure was on them, but for some reason we get into little funks that we can’t get out of.” Unforced errors began to doom the Golden Eagles in the fourth game. They led 9-8 before the host Eagles rattled off seven straight points to seize control of the match. “I think we took away our own confidence,” Kageta said. “We made some serving errors and some passing errors. We weren’t generating any offense, and I thought we had way more offensive tools.” Mattevi pounded one of her 15 kills to cut the deficit to 22-20, but El Camino quickly scored three more to force a decisive fifth game. “The momentum shifted to their side, because they had just won a big game and they had pretty much no errors,” Mattevi said. Kessler opened the final game by serving out of bounds, and the Eagles wasted no time in smothering Del Oro. “Our passing just went south and then we started pressing,” Kageta said. “It wasn’t until that fifth game, because all the way through it was OK. It wasn’t glaring. What happens is they start trying to make great things happen. They feel the pressure. Instead of just trying to put the ball in play they try to make a really spectacular play. We tried to tell them to just stay with what they normally do, but they got a little shaken and it kind of snowballed.” Fueled by a high-energy home crowd, El Camino took a 7-2 lead. Duffin answered with one of her team-high 18 kills, but the Eagles scored the final eight points without a fight. Rebecca Walls’ winning serve caught part of the net and fell in the middle of all six Golden Eagles as El Camino students flooded the floor. “I still think we’re a really, really good team deserving of playing in that section final, but one little thing turned into a big thing,” Kageta said.