GARDEN VALLEY — Luke Linka loves that team his dad coaches “with all his heart.”
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That team is now Sierra Delta League champions after Wednesday’s harrowing five set, come-from-behind 23-25, 25-17, 23-25, 25-22, 15-13 win over Vacaville Christian, the first title in program history.
With the league banner up for grabs, the Grizzlies left the door open just enough to panic their diehard fans during five, nerve-racking sets that ended on an Anthony Rosas push shot the Falcons blocked out.
“We knew … I knew … that Vacaville Christian wasn’t going to give it to us with the league title and playoff positioning on the line,” Golden Sierra coach Glenn Linka said. “They (Grizzlies) knew it’d be a hard, tough fight and they never gave up.”
Both teams came in 11-1, both had defeated the other 3-0 at home. Wednesday’s winner-take-all appeared to turn on a Jon Oules block late in the fifth set but a stubborn Vacaville Christian squad used a 5-1 run, behind the play of Andrew Grabowski, to tighten the screws until Rosas scored.
“That’s kind of my thing. If I can’t get a good hit I shoot it and the guy happened to swipe it out,” Rosas said. “This is incredible and exhilarating.”
The Falcons’ penchant to stay alive cost Golden Sierra in the first set. Trailing 23-18, the visitors scored seven straight. Under a sense of urgency, the Griz picked up the pace to take the second set but not before allowing five of the last six points. Golden Sierra built its lead on back-to-back-to-back Skyler Watson sets to Brian Cann, a senior, who along with Rosas and Brandon Susic were honored prematch.
Mistakes hurt Golden Sierra in the next game. Though the Grizzlies battled to tie at 23s, the next two points and 2-1 lead went to the Falcons.
Cann, Watson, Rosas, Susic, Eric Yamzon, Alex Murray, Brendon Nutt, Oules and Will Cann on serve all dug in for the fourth set. The Grizzlies led 18-11 on Yamzon’s ace but braced for a Falcon run that cut the deficit to two four different times — the last at 24-22 before a Rosas block sent the match to the fifth set.
Golden Sierra never trailed. Susic landed a kill out of a Vacaville timeout and later Oules rejected Grabowski for the biggest play of the night. The Falcons last-ditch effort to catch the Grizzlies fell short.
“He’s their best hitter and coach said ‘to get on his right shoulder,’” Oules said. “I stepped over, went with him and got the block. Getting this win feels great.”
Golden Sierra will host the first round of the playoffs next Tuesday.