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Skyhawks sweep South Salem and West Linn, ready for Central Catholic in 6A title bout

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Southridge volleyball swept South Salem and West Linn in the 6A state tournament and will play Central Catholic in the title game.

As an eighth-grader, less than a year away from entering Class 3A contender Westside Christian where she would blossom into a Division One prospect, Chloe Brown came to the 6A state tournament, wide-eyed and awed by the talent on the court, not knowing one day she too would be on the floor front and center.

When Brown stepped on the Liberty High School hardwood, donning a black and Vegas Gold Southridge uniform, surrounded by a star-studded Skyhawk cast and a bevy of fans in the stands, the all-state hitter took a moment to soak it all in.

When the ball tipped and the inevitable butterflies calmed in the 6A quarterfinals against South Salem, Brown and her ballyhooed squad handled their business in efficient form sweeping the Saxons 27-25, 25-16, 25-16.

"I've always wanted to play here, so it was super cool to be a part of it," Brown said. "It's a lot more nerve-wracking than I thought it would be, but it was exciting to be out there. We want that state championship, that's the goal. We've been working so hard for it. I feel like as a team we'll come together and get it done."

Southridge advanced to the semifinals against West Linn on Friday night where they thrashed the Lions, 25-16, 25-19, 25-18. The Skyhawks will play in the 6A state championship game against No. 2 Central Catholic on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Liberty High School.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior outside hitter Cameron Brink goes up high for a spike attempt against South Salem in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

The Saxons were a fitting first state tourney challenge for the No. 1 team in the state, specifically in the first set when South Salem claimed a late 24-23 lead. Yet, with the game tied up at 25-25, Brown buried a kill from the left side off a Lindsey Lambert dime across the floor to go up 26-25. And Southridge finished off the white-knuckle first set with a big Teddy Batinkova block at the net for the 27-25 win.

Batinkova was a force at the net, anchoring the middle, applying her defensive presence and long arms. Cameron Brink ran and jumped with her normal grace and power. Lambert's passing never disappoints and the junior chipped on the defense at the net as well. Natalie Hoff rotated in on the left side and put away a couple of offerings from Lambert and Julia Basauri.

All in all, it was solid, occasionally striking first state tourney showing for the Metro League winners.

"We played best as a team," Brown said. "The ball was super well-distributed. We had great passing from Julia (Basauri). (Brink) was hitting well. (Batinkova) was blocking. It just all kind of fell together. We got the nerves out in the first set and it was just so exciting and so much fun to play. As the match went on, we definitely got better."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior outside hitter Natalie Hoff hammers a kill against South Salem in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

South Salem stayed close in the second and third sets until about the midway point of each. Then Southridge simply flexed its muscles defensively and played mistake-free offense to put together big runs and momentum-shifting hits. Late in the second set, Brown gently grazed a sky-scraping tip kill that dropped into an open area in the frontcourt. And then the University of Miami commit closed it out with a patented power smack down the left chute to give Southridge a 25-16 win. In the third set, Southridge senior Cara McClean put home an ace to break up a 15-15 tie. And then McClean came up with right-handed dig along the far side of the court that saved a point and translated to a point for the Hawks that triggered a 5-0 run and eventual commanding victory.

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