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Placer survives in five

Senior-laden Hillgals dig deep to rally out of 2-0 hole, make section quarterfinals
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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As her volleyball season hung by a thread Tuesday night at Earl Crabbe Gym, Kelsey Lardner looked at her fellow seniors and pleaded with them. “I just said, ‘This is not the way our season’s going to end, not here,’” Lardner explained. And it didn’t. Placer High fought off young Rio Americano for a 23-25, 17-25, 25-20, 25-23, 15-12 victory to open the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. The win sends the fifth-seeded Hillgals to Woodland Thursday to take on No. 4 Pioneer in the quarterfinals. The Raiders were much sharper early on. Led by Rachel Vartanian — the visitors’ only senior — Rio rallied to take Game 1 and dominated Game 2. The two teams battled even throughout the third game before Placer turned it up a notch. Senior Christina Francis gave Placer a 20-19 lead with a kill. Lardner had a kill, Julia Dorsey pounded two big spikes and Francis finished it off with a kill as the Hillgals stayed in the match. Sophomore Gabby Orteza provided a huge spark with her serving and back row play in Game 4. Francis had three big kills in the clutch and Placer tied the match at two games apiece. Sophomore Michaela Leonard’s serving sparked the Hillgals to an early lead in Game 5. Orteza added her second ace of the match for Placer’s 14th point and Dorsey’s kill ended it. Placer had swept the Raiders in a tournament earlier this season and was surprised by the visitors’ skill level. “We weren’t expecting that from them,” said senior Kathryn Reale, who led Placer with 23 digs. “We really underestimated them. We knew we had to adjust after the first two games. We just had to keep our focus.” Dorsey dominated in the middle with 15 kills and four blocks. Francis finished with 10 kills while Stafford added six kills and 19 assists. Lardner dished out 32 assists to go with 17 digs. Placer’s ultimate goal is the section final, which would mean getting past Pioneer on Thursday, then beating defending section champ St. Mary’s in the semifinals. The Rams knocked Placer out of the playoffs last season. The Hillgals were nearly tripped up making the first step, but they righted themselves with some cool heads under pressure. “The seniors have a great bond, they’re just really tight,” Placer coach Jennifer Wright said. “They know what they can do and in that third game they just started to do it.”