The Rams will next host City College of San Francisco 7 p.m. Saturday night thanks to a 25-23, 25-21, 31-29 win.
“They didn’t make it easy,” said Gavilan coach Kevin Kramer. “We’d get up a little bit and make some great runs, but their two big guns would come to the front row and kind of even it out a little bit.”
Madison Hartman had 19 kills, including the match winner with a ball that just stayed inside the end line and prevent the Panthers from pulling an upset and staying alive for a fourth set.
“I just looked back at Kevin and he said just take it as it was. Oh my God, I was sweating bullets,” Hartman said.
Hartman threw down the final three kills to put the game away.
She had a kill to force a 29-all tie before adding two others to end the contest.
Kramer said Tuesday night extended beyond just what she did in the playoff match, but rather was an extension of the kind of year she has put together.
“Maddie has gone from a really good high school volleyball player, sitting out her senior season in club, battling a little bit last year with nothing more than herself,” Kramer said. “She knew the type of player she wanted to be and when she wasn’t that, she got down on herself. Tonight was, I think, the totality of all the work she’s put in. She said, ‘I’m not going to let the little stuff bother me and I’m going to be the type of player that I can be at this moment.’”
He said there were a few times when things didn’t fall the way Hartman would have liked, but he saw her not give up and disappear in those moments but kept fighting.
“That’s a huge testament to what she’s done over the last two years,” Kramer said.
Erica Chapa had 29 assists on a night where she was recognized for earning a First Team All American selection by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
Valerie Rodgers had 14 digs with Claire Gerard adding 12.
“I’ll tell you what, Valerie Rodgers had a heck of a game tonight,” Kramer said. “As a libero, sometimes you get lost in the shuffle, but she had some amazing digs tonight and some timely digs.”
Gerard ended up leaving with an arm injury late in the match, but the effort of the back line was not lost on those up front.
“It was amazing. Our back row, that girl right there,” Hartman said pointing to Rodgers, “did great. She saved all of us. It was amazing.”
Gavilan looked to be on the verge of an easy Game 3 win after battling through two sets, going on a seven-point run to open the game and eventually leading 17-12.
But as Hartnell had done in the second set when a 19-11 Gavilan lead nearly disappeared, the Panthers rallied with a 10-2 run to take a 22-20 lead.
“I think we le the pressure get to us a little bit and that totally showed,” Hartman said. “But we told each other in that last timeout that we needed to calm down and play our game like we know we can play and that’s what we did. And we worked really well and really hard.”
The Panthers even served set point when Courtney Borja scored a kill to kick off a 3-0 run that included her stuffing an attack that fell for a point to put Gavilan up 25-24.
That kicked off a back-and-forth that epitomized the tenor of the entire match.
“If you give teams life, all of a sudden they can start doing some things and Hartnell was able to do that tonight,” Kramer said. “We know the deeper we go into this, the more life we give teams the better chance the better chance they’ll have to get ahead.”
Hartnell had plenty of fight with its front attack of Mariyah Oliver, Natalia Kaopua and Baylei Furman putting the Gavilan defense on its heels and having to make spectacular plays.
Hartnell served set point four times during the stretch, but a double-hit and two errors helped thwart the opportunity.
Gavilan jumped out to a 7-1 lead to open the third set after going on its longest run of the night.
The Rams kept the pressure on surviving a couple of points here and there from the Panthers to eventually take a 17-12 lead.
But that’s when Hartnell got into a rhythm, slowly chipping away at the lead until the Panthers eventually took a 22-20 lead when Gavilan called timeout.
Kramer said he constantly runs scenarios with the team about end of set situations, whether it be a five-point game or a one-point game and have the players close things out. He said where they were against Hartnell was something they constantly practice and was a situation the Rams should feel comfortable competing in.
“They shouldn’t be shocked to look at the scoreboard and see they’re tied or down by two at the end of the game,” Kramer said. “The girls look for that challenge.”
That was the theme of the night for Gavilan as the Rams routinely built a lead only to see Hartnell battle back.
In the first set, the Rams went up 11-9 when the Panthers took a brief lead at 12-11 and again 14-13.
Gavilan went up 17-14 on a 4-0 run when Hartman had a pair of kills, plus a stuff at the net from Haley Leifheit and Borja.
Hartnell, however, wouldn’t go away again.
The Panthers went on a 6-2 run to go up 20-19 on kills from Oliver, Kaopua and Haley Martin.
But a pair of Hartnell errors gave Gavilan new life, going up 21-20 and hanging on after a ping-pong battle that eventually ended on a pair of kills from Hartman and an ace from Rodgers for a 25-23 win.
The second set Gavilan looked to have things well in hand.
After Hartnell tied the set at five all, Gavilan went on a 14-6 run to take a 19-11 lead.
Elizabeth Pearce had three kills and an ace in the run with Hartman and Chapa adding two kills each.
The Panthers made things interesting late with a 5-0 run to pull within three on unforced errors from Gavilan.
Hartnell pulled to within 22-20 when Gavilan finally put things away on a 3-1 run ending with a Panther service error.
Kramer said this was nothing new for the Rams. He said his group has been in plenty of battles through out the season, even if Gavilan has been on a winning streak of late.
“We’ve been doing that all year: Playing tough games all year long,” Kramer said. “The girls I think they need it. I think they want the challenge. When it happens, I think that gets them excited.”
Gavilan will next get ready to take on City College of San Francisco Saturday with two guarantees that can already be made: A member of the Coast Conference will advance to state and that team will be the Rams.
The Gavilan Rams and the CCSF Rams have met twice this season, with the two squads splitting their encounters. Gavilan won in a sweep and CCSF won in five.