In a riveting turn of events, it was the Miners who dug themselves an early hole against Placer Friday night at Albert Ali Gymnasium, only to crawl out and shock the Hillmen in five sets.
Nevada Union was shoulder deep in distress, trailing 2-0, but that’s when Placer became vulnerable, and that’s when the Miner magic arrived as NU rallied to win the next three sets to take the match, 20-25, 22-25, 25-20, 25-23, 15-12.
“I knew this was going to be a really tough game,” said NU head coach Marco Salcedo. “We played Placer earlier in a scrimmage and didn’t match up well. We were a little panicked the first two games. I was panicked. We just had to calm down, relax and get some composure back.”
It was a volleyball match of size, speed and tremendous athleticism, a showcase of the Sierra Foothill League and Capital Athletic League’s finest perhaps. NU rocketed off to an early 4-0 lead in Game 1, but Placer soon found its stride to tie it 6-6. The Hillmen finally grabbed hold for good after going up 15-14. Game 2 was similar, extremely tight early on, but Placer pulled away after taking a 12-11 advantage. It was clear NU had to regroup.
“I told our guys, ‘They’re going to let down’ everybody does,” added Salcedo. “We got them out of rhythm, rattled them, did it again in Game 4 and hammered it in Game 5. This is a test for us for sections. Can we come back, can we regain control?”
NU never trailed in Game 3 and overcame a late 20-18 deficit in Game 4 with a 7-3 run to close it out to force the dramatic fifth set. Momentum was all in favor of the Miners from there, who dropped the first point in Game 5 but quickly jumped back ahead and rode it out on top to earn the victory.
“Like coach told us, we weren’t showing any heart,” said senior Greg Paul, who swatted down a team-high 18 kills and provided solid leadership in the comeback.
“We just pushed ourselves, each other and scrapped for everything. That was a great win. We came in a little too cocky thinking we’d just roll over them.”
Paul picked up his final kill with great touch, as he sliced the ball cross court at an angle over the net to give NU a 14-12 edge in the final set. Placer then launched one out of play to end the match. Also stepping up when it mattered most was junior Logan Kerley, who delivered 11 kills and had 12 digs. Mason Salcedo played an active role in getting the offense rolling as he chipped in 17 assists. Cole Williams and Chandler Heppe were on their toes defensively for NU, coming up with 14 and 10 digs respectively. But none of them showed as much emotion as senior Evan Kittle.
“The last three games, that was awesome,” said Kittle, who tossed up a team-high 30 assists and knocked down 12 kills, including a smashing head shot to put NU up 12-10 in the pivotal Game 5. “The first two games was just nerves. We just didn’t gel. (Tonight) is a reflection of what we do in practice, go hard all of the time.”
For the Miners, junior Steven Skaggs turned in a clutch performance working the middle of the net, contesting shots from Placer’s big men Tyler Linton and Wyatt Henson.
Henson was a beast at times. He led all scorers with 31 kills. Setting up the majority of hits for Placer was Parker Houston, who ended with 46 assists.
NU (4-0) will now buckle in for SFL play, which begins Wednesday at Rocklin.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.