St. Francis swept out of playoffs

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Brigitte Canty leaps to make a kill in Saturday’s playoff match against Valley Christian. She led the Lancers with 12 kills.

After the Lancers let leads slip away in the first two sets, there was no turning back. The momentum belonged to visiting Valley Christian, which finished off St. Francis in the third set of Saturday’s Northern California Division II girls volleyball final.

The resilient Warriors – who overcame an eight-point deficit midway through the first set and a four-point hole late in the second to win both 25-23 – jumped to an early lead in the third on the way to a 25-17 victory.

“It just came down to those one or two points at the end of the first and second sets,” Lancers coach Mike Rubin said. “If the end of the first and second sets are different, who knows what happens from there on out?”

Top-seeded St. Francis (23-15) will have plenty of time to ponder that as No. 2 Valley Christian (28-12) heads to Orange County to face Southern California champ Cathedral Catholic in Saturday’s state title match.

“It’s really difficult, because we had a good season,” said outside hitter Mollie Ebertin, who totaled five kills in the loss. “We had a good winning streak from the beginning of NorCal and we prepared really well at practice, but we just didn’t end up coming through at this match.”

The 6-foot-1 junior took some of the blame for that, saying that she played “a lot better” the last time these teams met. The Lancers outlasted the host Warriors in five sets Sept. 28 in West Catholic Athletic League play.

“We had a lot of energy in that match – we were really pumped to win it,” Ebertin said. “I think we started out today like that, but we just couldn’t carry it through the whole match.”

Back-to-back kills by Ebertin – including a booming back-row shot – pushed St. Francis’ advantage to 14-6 in the first set of Saturday’s match. The Lancers led 19-13 when the Warriors started their rally, scoring five of the next seven points.

St. Francis’ Gabrielle Heller tried to stem the tide with a kill that put her team ahead 22-18, but that wasn’t nearly enough to deter Valley Christian. The Warriors scored six straight points to take their first lead and – after an Ebertin kill – won the set on a spike by Melanie Williams.

The 6-foot-3 Williams, who finished with a match-high 14 kills, gave the Lancers fits all night.

“They switched their lineup a little bit; they moved (Williams) to (opposite hitter) and she did a really good job there,” Rubin said.

St. Francis didn’t seem to let that first-set loss linger, however, going up 10-7 on Heller’s thumping cross-court kill in the second set.

The Lancers’ biggest lead came at 20-16 – and that’s when Valley Christian made its move. The Warriors went on an 8-2 run, with Williams’ tip shot putting them up 24-22. Ebertin crushed a kill to the back row to cut St. Francis’ deficit in half, only to see Valley Christian’s Bekah Roth counter for the win.

The Warriors clearly had more pep in their step as they returned to the court for the third set, and the visitors built a 7-3 lead. The Lancers got as close as 8-7, but then Valley Christian re-established control of the set. The Warriors went up 22-13 before St. Francis put together a three-point run capped by Brigitte Canty’s block. The senior led the Lancers with 12 kills Saturday.

“I was really proud of Brigitte and the way that she fought,” Rubin said. “I think she was really key to getting us those leads (in the first two sets) and keeping us in the game.”

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