MERCEDES — Saturday’s District 32-5A match between the Brownsville Porter Cowgirls and Mercedes Lady Tigers went down to the wire, offering a thrilling show for viewers.
The back-and-forth battle needed five sets — and extra points in the fifth — to decide a winner. Porter held off Mercedes’ late push and went home with a hard-fought 25-19, 18-25, 25-14, 21-25, 17-15 victory to improve to 2-1 in district.
“I hate that we have to go five sets, but what I do love to see is the girls come together and my seniors step up, especially Brianna Franco,” Porter coach Ashley Martinez said. “But at the end of the day, we have to finish in three. We have to start fast, and we can’t get comfortable.”
The teams played each other tight through the first 10 points of the opening set. The Cowgirls settled in first, improving passing efficiency, and it allowed setter Andrea Perez (44 assists, six aces) to get the offense rolling to a four-point lead. Middles Brianna Franco (23 kills, three blocks) and Ebony Garza hit at a high clip for Porter.
When Mercedes’ dynamic duo of Ximena Puente and Jayda Luna was patrolling the net, momentum shifted. They slowed Porter’s hitters with their solid blocking, and Puente hit well from the middle to put the Lady Tigers up 15-14.
“We told them defense was going to be the key, to stay ready and play smart. Porter has a good middle blocker, too, so we told them they’d have to play big in the middle and around Franco,” Mercedes coach Olga Adame said.
Porter pushed points when Puente was off the court and Luna moved to the back row to set. Mercedes struggled with serve-receive and passing throughout the match, resulting in too many tips, free balls and hits that sailed long. The Cowgirls took advantage of the limited attack, delivering precise passes to set up hot hitters Franco and Monica Gonzalez to clinch the set.
Porter took a 6-0 lead in the second behind three consecutive aces and solid serving from Perez. But again, the one-two punch of Puente and Luna swayed the set in Mercedes’ favor. The duo racked up blocks and hard kills, and its play — combined with tough serving by Leah Adame — got the Cowgirls completely off balance.
Mercedes went up 17-8 before Porter stopped the bleeding. Franco, Perez, Ebony Garza and solid defense from libero Liberty Garza (40 digs) helped the Cowgirls cut into the deficit, but they couldn’t maintain momentum due to multiple stops in action as the down referee questioned their rotations, and the Lady Tigers evened the match.
The third set was very close at the start. Both teams hustled to cover the court and looked good offensively, resulting in exciting rallies. Porter created some separation behind solid hitting by Gonzalez, then Gianna Aviles controlled the back end of the set to put the Cowgirls up 2-1. Aviles played solid defense and scored five straight points from the service line, where Porter dominated with 14 aces.
“We are a great spot-serving club. We really know how to pick you apart. I’m happy my girls are confident with the ball, that’s what I want to see,” Martinez said.
Mercedes played arguably its best volleyball during the fourth and fifth sets. Puente and Luna continued to produce at a high rate, and more Lady Tigers started to contribute to the attack. They weren’t putting down hard kills, but well-placed tips and a good effort up front from Valeria Zamaripa and Jackie Bibian gave them a lead in the fourth. Alex Gomez notched three consecutive aces, then an 8-0 run aided by Porter miscues put Mercedes in position to take the frame.
“They played as a team, they did really good. Communication was the key to staying on their toes,” Adame said. “(They have to) stay composed when they feel the pressure, when it’s close. Stay focused, stay composed, get the point back and keep pushing forward.”
In the fifth, Liberty Garza and the Porter defense took advantage of Mercedes’ heavy use of tips and free balls to increase passing efficiency and aid the Cowgirls’ early lead. The Lady Tigers clawed back and tied the decider at 12 following an Adame kill.
Porter had several questionable calls go against it, but the Cowgirls fought through frustrations, energized by the rowdy subvarsity players cheering in the stands. The final five rallies were strong and Mercedes killed off four of Porter’s match points, but Ebony Garza finished it for the Cowgirls.
“Porter’s on the rise in a lot of sports, and I’m really proud of this program,” Martinez said. “(Ebony Garza’s) still very young at the net, but man, she’s showing great progress. And, of course, my setter (Perez), playing on one ankle today, she came through. It’s great.”
In other 32-5A action Saturday, Brownsville Pace (3-0 in district) defeated Brownsville Lopez, and Brownsville Veterans Memorial (3-0) swept Weslaco East.
In 32-6A, Harlingen South (3-1) swept Donna North and Brownsville Rivera (2-2) swept Brownsville Hanna. Los Fresnos and Harlingen High both picked up 3-1 victories over Weslaco High and San Benito, respectively. Los Fresnos and Harlingen High sit atop the district standings at 4-0 and will face off at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Harlingen.
District 32-4A action starts Tuesday. Rio Hondo, which defeated La Joya Palmview in five Saturday, will play host to La Feria. Raymondville travels to Port Isabel for a 6:30 p.m. match.