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By Steve Breazeale
With standout Lucas Yoder still on the bench nursing a concussion the San Clemente boys volleyball team’s first step into the CIF playoffs got off on the right foot on May 7, as they played a balanced and aggressive style against visiting Royal in the first round and earned a three-set win.
The Tritons (30-2) never trailed in the match and won 25-16, 25-19 and 25-23, pushing them into a second round matchup against either Newport Harbor or Hart. The score of that game was not available at press time and a coin flip, to be taken the morning of May 8, will determine if the Tritons will have home court advantage or hit the road on May 9.
Behind senior outside hitter AJ Hammer’s seven-kill, one block effort in the first set, the Tritons breezed their way past the relatively unknown Highlanders out of the Marmonte League early.
Junior Peter Van Liefde picked up where Hammer left off in the second set and tallied four of his eight kills in the 25-19 set win that gave the Tritons a comfortable 2-0 lead.
Hammer would lead the team with nine kills and was backed up by senior outside hitter Garrett Costello’s seven, Shawn Stephens eight and Van Liefde’s efforts.
“We wanted to get off and get started strong and I think that was our emphasis to come out and make sure we didn’t play lackadaisical for any points,” San Clemente head coach Ken Goldstone said.
But the occasional inconsistent play that has splotched its way into the Tritons game since Yoder’s injury reared its head in the third when San Clemente’s serving got a little wayward, allowing Royal to stay close.
The Highlanders were able to chip away at an 11-6 deficit and would not let up. Royal’s outside hitter Sean Ring had six kills in the set and brought his team to within one at 19-18. After a late 5-3 run Royal tied things up at 23-23, the closest they had been all night.
The tie would not last for long, as Costello responded and buried a kill, allowing the Tritons to take the most competitive, and final, set of the night 25-23.
“We have to be consistent…our serving was a little inconsistent at times tonight but we played hard,” Goldstone said. “If we keep our ball control solid our passing will be right there with anybody.