SONORA — Sonora acted like it has been here before.
It’s because the Wildcats have, and they’re going back to a Sac-Joaquin Section final for a fifth straight year after downing fourth-seeded Manteca 24-26, 25-10, 25-20, 25-11 in the Division III semifinal Tuesday at Bud Castle Gym.
“We played them before and we kind of knew what to expect, but I think playing so far (away from home) kind of affected us,” Manteca setter Kacy Bolding said. “Just this whole atmosphere with their band here and everything, you could tell it bothered us. But they played great. They just played better than us today.”
The top-seeded club in the bracket did not appear fazed after dropping the wild opening set in which Manteca (23-9) — playing in its first section semifinal since 2002 — battled back from an early 11-3 deficit to win it. Payton Reis’ kill gave the Buffaloes a 21-20 lead, and Bolding delivered an ace that set them up with game point, 24-21.
Sonora (24-7) made it interesting by scoring three unanswered points but gift-wrapped set with a lift. The Wildcats shrugged it off, and they returned to the sidelines with smiles on their faces. Manteca, meanwhile, played with a nervous tension from the start and couldn’t shake out of its funk even after stealing the first set.
“We have a lot of returning seniors, so we’ve been there, done that,” Sonora coach Amy Wahlbrink said. “Experience played a big role. They were just focused on making it back to the section championship and tonight was the final puzzle for that.”
Sonora has a chance to capture its fourth section title in five years, the first three coming in Division IV. Last season, the Wildcats were swept by Christian Brothers in the championship match. They’ll square off with 10th-seeded El Dorado, which stunned No. 3 Christian Brothers in four games in the other semifinal, on Saturday.
Pacific commit Riley Patterson is among Sonora’s veteran standouts. The fourth-year outside hitter produced nine kills and three blocks, and her deadly jump serve gave the Buffaloes fits throughout.
Senior middle blockers Molly O’Reilly and Sarah Rosasco also had big moments along with outside hitter Bella Patterson. The trio did much of the damage early in the second set as Sonora rolled to a 10-2 advantage. There was no letting down this time, as Bella Patterson went on a six-point service run — highlighted by two blocks and a kill in succession, all from Riley Patterson — that widened the gap to 24-9.
Game 3 was far more competitive until the Wildcats ran away with it in the end. Leading 21-19, O’Reilly came through with back-to-back kills, and Riley Patterson set up game point with a scoring spike from the back row. O’Reilly capped it off with a dink.
Sonora never trailed in the fourth set, and it was again O’Reilly who took over in the later stages. She scored four of her team’s final five points, including three straight kills and another well-placed tip for match point. O’Reilly led all players with 16 kills.
“Their middles did a great job of turning on the ball and hitting the right spots,” Manteca coach Kevin Bolding said. “I thought we did a pretty good job on (Riley Patterson), but she’ll get hers because she’s a great player. They had a couple other people step up tonight and I thought that was the difference for them. We just didn’t dig and pass well enough to play at their level.”
Senior outside hitter Rhiannon Genilla recorded 10 kills, 10 digs and two aces for the Buffaloes. Reis paced the attack with 11 kills. Kaitlyn Morenzone contributed 29 digs and 12 assists, while Kacy Bolding wound up with 13 digs and nine assists.
The good news for Manteca is it won’t have to wait long to seek redemption. All four semifinalists qualify for the CIF Northern California Regional Championships, and brackets will be released Sunday night.
“If you would have told me in the beginning of this season that we’d be here I would have told you that you were crazy,” Kacy Bolding said. “Just being here in round 3 is amazing for us, and it’s going to definitely prepare us for NorCals.”