SONORA — Sonora has been there, done that. And the state’s reigning Division IV state champion has done it again.
The top-seeded Wildcats swept Ripon 25-9, 25-20, 25-15 Tuesday at Bud Castle Gym to reach their third straight Sac-Joaquin Section final despite losing seven seniors from last year’s squad, and they celebrated the win like it was any other. The title match is Saturday starting 2:30 p.m. at Tokay High of Lodi, and it will be the third consecutive year that Sonora faces Hilmar in the finals. Hilmar swept Bear River in the other semifinal.
Sonora (30-4) is where Ripon coach Adrienne Beltrami strives for her club to be in terms of expectations and experience. She has taken the Indians (20-10), seeded fifth in the tournament, to back-to-back semifinal appearances and believes they have what it takes to get over the hump next season and beyond.
“Sonora is the defending state champ, they’ve been to section (finals) multiple times so this is normal to them,” Beltrami said. “We’re trying to make it normal for us. We’ve played in loud gyms before, we’ve played in hyped games against Escalon and Hilmar and we know how to handle those situations. I wasn’t really concerned about that part.
“It’s hard to compete with someone who is used to it. It’s their norm. I do believe that next year will be different, but I honestly thought that this year was, too.
Now it’s about putting together strong effort from start to finish at this stage in the season. In last Thursday’s upset of No. 4 Woodland, the Indians dominated from the outset to take the first two sets but needed a fifth to pull it out.
On Tuesday it was Sonora that set tone, and Ripon remained on its heels for the remainder of the match.
“I thought we were ready, I just think something was off,” Ripon junior middle blocker Breana Barrios said. “We could have picked it up but that didn’t happen.”
Sonora certainly deserves much of the credit for its brisk start. It made just one unforced error in the first set while Ripon struggled in all facets. Kelsie Evans fired three kills early on as Sonora shot out to a 9-2 lead, and that was before heavy-handed sophomore outside hitter Riley Patterson made her mark. Patterson finished with a match-high 17 kills, while Evans had 13 to go with four blocks.
“That was one of main goals tonight, was to be able to come out well,” Sonora coach Kim Evans said. “I thought we executed well on what we’ve been working on in practice.”
After its near-perfect first set, Sonora opened the second with two straight unforced errors. Ripon was far more competitive and was level with the Wildcats at 17-17 thanks to an ace from Stephanie Petlansky. Sonora recaptured control with key hits from Evans and Patterson, and Kiana Pisula’s two-handed dump punctuated the most match’s best rally and extended the Wildcats’ lead to 23-19.
Ripon again hung with the host team early in Game 3 but held its last lead at 4-3.
“I feel like we didn’t really show what we were capable tonight,” Beltrami said. “There were glimpses and moments. I don’t know if it was us just being timid, but we definitely were not playing our aggressive game that we normally play. We had a lot of unforced errors and had to clean that up.
“I really believed in my heart coming into it that it was going to be a really good battle and I thought we had a really good shot at beating Sonora, I really did. When we played them in preseason we took them to four and we’ve grown immensely since then. I’m honestly kind of in shock that we struggled tonight.”
Samantha McCreath led Ripon with 12 kills and two aces. Ashlyn Eisenga turned in 30 digs, Lauren Wiebe and Petlansky each had nine assists and Barrios contributed six blocks.