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Esperanza Finds Way Into Finals


Although third-seeded Esperanza stood only four points away from elimination with its best player hobbled by an injury, it still managed to fight back and outlast Manhattan Beach Mira Costa in a five-game, three-hour Southern Section Division I semifinal Wednesday at El Dorado High.

Senior Jon Alleman played through a pulled hamstring and had 15 of his 35 kills in the final game--which took one hour--to help Esperanza rally to a 15-9, 10-15, 7-15, 15-13, 15-11 victory.

Esperanza (18-1) advanced to the Division I final at 7 p.m. Saturday at Cypress College and will play second-seeded Simi Valley Royal, which defeated Capistrano Valley in three games. Royal and Esperanza met in the 1992 Division 3-A and 1993 Division II finals, splitting the matches.

Mira Costa (19-3), the defending Division I champion, put Esperanza in a hole, taking command of the match with a balanced offense led by Jeremy Koop (25 kills), Michael Mauge (24 kills) and setter Scott Hunter (86 assists).

"We were frustrated by their ability to side out," Esperanza Coach Kurt Kersten said. "They could hit from just about anywhere. But after we got down, we just went back to basics."

Alleman answered the call although Kersten thought about resting him after Game 2.

"He didn't want to come out," Kersten said. "He played through it."

It was clear Alleman wasn't at his best, and he hit a spike into the net and shanked a pass for the Mira Costa's final two points in Game 3. But he rebounded in Game 4, notching six kills and teaming with seniors Dan Harrington (26 kills) and Kyle Anderson (19 kills, six blocks) to jump-start the Aztecs.

Although Esperanza took an early 4-0 lead in Game 4, Mira Costa rallied and moved ahead, 11-9. But after Alleman and Harrington each had kills for key side outs, the Mustangs committed four consecutive hitting errors to help Esperanza score six consecutive points before winning, 15-13, to force a fifth game.

Game 5 was a classic and neither team blinked. The game featured two runs where the teams exchanged 14 consecutive side outs. The teams combined for 75 kills and Esperanza setter senior Justin Dalton had 30 of his 85 assists in Game 5.

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