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Hilltoppers come up just short against St. Pius

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By Phil Scherer

For more than a decade, the St. Pius X Sartans have dominated the Los Alamos High School volleyball team. In 12 meetings since 2007, St. Pius is undefeated against the Hilltoppers, including multiple matchups in the state tournament. That streak continued Tuesday at Griffith Gymnasium, but this was perhaps the closest match of them all, a 3-2 match that went down to the very end.

The Hilltoppers entered the match looking for a good performance after losing two games on the road in Santa Fe last week. St. Pius came in also looking for a rebound after losing 3-1 in their last game against Rio Rancho.

Early on, it appeared the Hilltoppers were well on their way to a victory. LAHS jumped out to a lead in the first set, led by junior Natalie Gallegos. She delivered three kills and an ace in quick succession, and gave the Hilltoppers a 17-13 lead, forcing St. Pius to take a timeout.

The stoppage did little to slow LAHS’ momentum, though, as they continued to pile up points and run away with the set, taking it 25-15 to take a 1-0 lead.

The second set appeared to be headed in a similar direction, as the Hilltoppers jumped out to a 14-8 lead thanks to senior Sophia Salazar’s accurate spikes and senior Kyla Sandoval’s serving skills. They continued to lead until late in the set, and were three points from their second victory before St. Pius made its comeback.

Down 22-18, the Sartans reeled off five points in a row to take their first lead of the set at 23-22. The teams then traded points through 26-26, before St. Pius earned two points in a row to take the set and even the match 1-1.

The Sartans continued their momentum into the third set, as the Hilltoppers appeared to be completely out of sync. The sharp spikes that came in bunches in the first two sets disappeared for LAHS in the third, as St. Pius ran away with an easy 25-13 victory to take a 2-1 lead in the match.

Throughout the early stages of the fourth set, it was clear that LAHS was still fighting to get back into rhythm, as few rallies went smoothly for the Hilltoppers. However, St. Pius was unable to gain a large lead, giving LAHS multiple points on unforced errors.

Trailing 22-18, Gallegos seemed to get the energy back for the Hilltoppers with an emphatic spike that made the crowd go crazy. The energy boost propelled LAHS back into the match, as they tied it up at 23-23, and held off three consecutive match points for St. Pius.

That’s when senior Sophia Salazar took over for the Hilltoppers, rattling off three booming spikes in a row that no St. Pius defender had a chance of blocking. The kills gave LAHS a 28-26 win in the set, tying the match 2-2 and setting up the deciding fifth set.

The final set was back-and-forth throughout, with neither team leading by more than two points.

Tied 7-7, Salazar and Gallegos picked up back-to-back kills to give LAHS a 9-7 lead, but St. Pius answered right back with two points of their own.

At 13-13, Salazar put the Hilltoppers within a point of victory with a great kill, but LAHS was unable to close it out. Then, with the Sartans leading 15-14, Salazar kept the Hilltoppers alive with her final kill of the night.

However, the match came to close two points later, as the Sartans were able to pick up back-to-back points to win the set 17-15, and the match 3-2.

In defeat, Salazar and Gallegos had outstanding games. Salazar led the team with 24 kills, and Gallegos added 20. No other Hilltoppers had more than four kills in the match.

This weekend, the Hilltoppers will get back to action at the Moriarty Tournament, offering a chance for the team to get back in the win column.