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Whenever two Santa Maria Valley high school teams meet, the fans expect a good game.

The fans got their money’s worth and more Thursday night at Pioneer Valley High School.

The Pioneer Valley Panthers (2-0) and Orcutt Academy Spartans (1-1) waged a great battle in a non-league boys’ volleyball match with the match going to five sets before the Panthers closed out a 3-2 victory.

The final sets score were 25-22, 23-25, 25-23, 22-25, 15-13 in Pioneer Valley’s favor.

“It was a nail-biter — our second straight nail-biter,” said Pioneer Valley coach Ralph Quintana, whose team opened the season with 3-2 win Tuesday over Santa Maria. “But in the preseason, this type of match is good for our players.”

“When we’re making the plays, things go well for us,” said Orcutt Academy coach Leigh Stephenson, whose team opened with a 3-1 win Tuesday over St. Joseph. “It’s when we get tentative that things don’t go well.”

When Pioneer Valley raced out to a 14-6 lead in the night’s first set, it looked like it could be an easy night for the Panthers.

Kevin Gonzalez got the ball rolling with an early kill for Pioneer Valley.

Craig Ragan followed with a winning return and his first kill of the evening.

When Christian Fernandez had three straight serves that the Spartans couldn’t handle, Pioneer Valley had its 14-6 lead.

After Orcutt Academy hit a shot out of bounds and then followed that with another into the net, Pioneer Valley was up 16-7.

But that 9-point lead turned out to be the largest lead for either team on the night.

Orcutt Academy settled down and from there on out, the teams battled back and forth the rest of the way.

It some time, but the Spartans finally closed the gap to 22-21 before the Panthers were able to pull out the set when Fernandez tipped the ball over the net for the set-winner.

The largest lead in the second set was three points — the Spartans did that twice.

But the set was so close; the teams were tied 11 different times before the Spartans finally won it.

Early in the set, Fernandez blasted a kill shot that Orcutt Academy hit into the net.

On the next play, the Spartans turned the tables with Dylan Gomez hitting the same shot that the Panthers returned into the net.

With the Spartans ahead 24-21, the Panthers’ Shamar Arriola and Ragan and had kills to make the score 24-23.

Dane Weeks spike closed out the set to tie the match at 1-game all.

The third set was tied seven times — the last at 23-all — before Pioneer Valley scored the final two points.

In the middle of the set, Orcutt Academy’s Hamilton Wall was a one-man highlight reel.

Wall made a great diving save of a Panthers kill shot and then, while on his knees, made a second save of another kill attempt. Wall got up, saw another Pioneer Valley shot coming right at him and went up for his own shot to give his team the point. This was all in about 10 seconds.

Back came the Spartans in the fourth set.

Orcutt Academy went out to a 4-0 lead and was ahead 8-3 before Pioneer Valley started a comeback.

The Panthers tied it up at 9-all and from there the teams traded points until the Spartans went up 23-20 before closing the set out.

In the fifth set, where it’s the first team to 15 points, Orcutt Academy was leading 13-11.

Pioneer Valley took a time out.

“I took the time out and then let the boys know that this is the point where you have to show everybody you want to be here,” said Quintana.  “This is the point where you have to show you want to win. It was all on them and they showed they wanted the win.”

Pioneer Valley came out of the time out and rallied — scoring the final four points to win the set and match.

“Pioneer Valley is always scrappy, they always hustle,” said Stephenson. “They did a good job of putting pressure on our outside hitters tonight.”

Gomez led Orcutt Academy with 15 kills, Weeks had 12 kills and lobero James Tilley had 20 digs.

Armando Tamayo and Ragan each had 10 kills for Pioneer Valley. Nickolas Equihua had 9 kills.

Orcutt Academy is right back in action Friday with a match at Mission Prep.

Pioneer Valley’s next match is Tuesday when the Panthers host Templeton.


Senior Sports Reporter