WEB FIRST: LLHS spikers sweep county rivals, hold on to first place

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The formula for winning district championships in most sports is pretty simple – defend your home court and steal a few matches on the road.

After this past week, the Los Lunas girls volleyball will tell you that’s easier said than done.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: LOS LUNAS PLAYERS cheer a winning point during the Tigers' five-set win over Belen in Belen Thursday night.

The Tigers successfully weathered rivalry week, starting with a tough three-set win at Valencia High Tuesday and finishing Thursday with a five-set battle at Belen High. With the wins Los Lunas (10-6, 6-0) now sits in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed and a home championship match in the District 6-4 tournament, which begins Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Valencia (10-5, 4-2), which defeated Gallup High in three games Thursday night, sits in second and Belen (8-7, 3-3) is tied with Grants (9-6, 3-3) in third place. The Eagles beat the Pirates in five games Tuesday night. All three teams wore pink uniforms and BHS and VHS did fundraising as part of their participation in this month’s “Think Pink” breast awareness campaign.

 Los Lunas 3, Belen 2

A sign at inside Belen High’s gym during the schools’ “Think Pink” match read “Hit Like a Girl.”

The Tigers and Eagles did just that, going at each other like a pair of prizefighters before LLHS earned a win in the two teams’ thrilling five-set win over the Eagles, prevailing 25-13, 25-27, 25-19, 25-27, 17-15.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: BELEN SENIOR Victoria Spragg (7) hits a shot past the block of Los Lunas' Jordan Holland during the Eagles five-set loss Thursday night.

The Eagles looked to be beaten twice in the match, but rallied in set two and set four with extended rallies and runs to take the match to a decisive fifth set.

In the final set, Belen took leads of 3-1 and 11-6 but the Tigers’ Katin Inman led a trio of LLHS rallies that saw Los Lunas prevail in the end.

Down 12-9, the Tigers forced a side out then got a service ace from Inman that ignited a four point run to give LLHS a 13-12 lead. But Belen forced it’s own side out on the next point for a 13-13 tie and the two teams traded points until the match was tied a 15-15. With the pressure on, the Eagles committed a pair of unforced errors and the Tigers escaped with the win.

Los Lunas came out strong in set one behind the service and setting of sophomore Kelsey Bell and hitting senior Katie Inman.

But Belen responded in the second set behind the tough hitting from senior Victoria Spragg, who led the Eagles on a 13-3 run that gave BHS a 24-16 lead and set point. But the Tigers roared back with a 10-0 run of their own and forced their own set point at 25-24. But Belen finished the set with a three-point flourish punctuated by an ace by senior librero Michelle Benavidez to take the extended set 27-25.

Set three was largely dominated by the Tigers, who led 20-9 before BHS rallied to cut the lead to 22-19. But LLHS closed the set with three straight points to push the match to four sets.

LLHS again took an early advantage in set four but the Eagles rallied behind Spraggs’ hitting and Benavidez’ accurate service, including four services aces. BHS took a 21-18 lead but the Tigers rallied and tied the set at 24-24. The two teams went back and forth until the final two points, where Spragg slapped a kill shot followed by a Benavidez ace to give Belen the set.

Inman and sophomore Jordan Holland led Los Lunas in kills with 26 and 12 apiece while sophomore Kelsey Bell had 60 assists and seven services aces.

Spragg registered 31 kills and 14 blocks while Benavidez finished with eight services aces for the match.

On Tuesday, the Eagles rallied from two sets down Tuesday night at Grants High, forcing a fifth set to beat the Pirates 26-24, 18-25, 20-25, 25-19 15-5.

Los Lunas 3, Valencia 0

The Tigers entered the Valencia High gym with a one-game lead over the Jaguars in district and exited with a hard fought win as Valencia struggled to adjust to a new line-up in sets one and two.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: VALENCIA HIGH'S Brenda Baeza (8) and Mallory Munson (12) go for the block against Los Lunas' Kristie Sandoval during their match Tuesday night at Valencia High School.

The two teams played even to begin the match before LLHS went on a 13-1 run powered by great net play by Inman, Holland and freshman Miranda Jaramillo that propelled them to a 25-11.

Los Lunas grabbed the initiative in set two but Valencia rallied to take a 13-11 lead before Jaramillo put down three of her four services aces for the game. The Jaguars managed to keep pace with kills by seniors Brenda Baeza and sophomore Peyton Linthicum. But Holland and sophomore Kelsey Bell score the final two points of set two to give the Tigers a 25-19 win.

Set three was even throughout as both teams dueled at the net. Valencia took a 16-13 lead, but LLHS countered to tie the match at 17-17. The Jags took a 23-21 lead on a kill by Baeza but Inman hit two winners then Kelsey Bell delivered two successive aces to end the match.

Inman again led the Tigers with 22 kills and 16 digs while Bell registered 39 assists and six aces. Senior Carley Medina finished with 13 digs and a 95 percent service rate on 19 serves.

Four games left in regular season

The Jaguars hosted Gallup (4-10, 2-4) Thursday, defeating the Bengals 25-13, 25-15,  25-16. With four games remaining in the regular season, Valencia hosts Gallup Miyamura (1-14, 0-6) Tuesday before traveling to Grants next Thursday. The Jaguars finish the regular season at Los Lunas on Halloween night.

Belen hosts Gallup Tuesday before traveling to Miyamura on Thursday to face the Patriots, who winless in league play and have just one win all season.

Los Lunas hosts Grants Tuesday night then travels to Gallup Thursday.