Deep playoff runs have been standard for Bell-Jeff (17-9-1) in recent years. The Guards have not been knocked out earlier than the quarterfinals since 2007, notching two trips to the quarters and one each to the division semifinals and final the past five years.
The No. 3-seeded Guards will move on to a second-round game Thursday against the winner of the first-round contest between California Math and Science and Buckley.
The Guards received a big boost in the game with the return of senior middle Mariah Bankhead, who aggravated an injured knee in September and has been sidelined ever since. At 6 feet 1, Bankhead provides Bell-Jeff with its only height in the middle.
"I love this team and I wanted to come back to help the seniors," said Bankhead, who is also a standout on the school's basketball team. "It was hard for me to sit out and watch them play. I just hope I can help them in any way that I can."
In her return, Bankhead had seven kills. Leading the way for Bell-Jeff was senior outside hitter Taryn Nelson, who had 12 kills and six aces. Teammate Briana Hilo added eight kills and three aces and Amanda Maalouf had 23 assists.
"I know that we can play better than we did," Nelson said. "In that third game we kind of let them come back and we didn't finish it. That has been a problem for us all season."
The third game was by far the most competitive, as Kern Valley (11-9) — an at-large team from the High Desert League — came out motivated. Midway through the stanza, the Guards found themselves behind by seven, 13-6.
But as if a fire was ignited under the Guards, they came roaring back. Taking advantage of seven Broncs unforced errors, including four hitting errors in a row, Bell-Jeff went on a 14-1 run and turned a seven-point deficit into a six-point advantage. From trailing by seven, Bell-Jeff outscored Kern Valley, 19-3, the rest of the way.
"It's disappointing that we have to be pushed like that before we respond." Segura said. "We need to play with more consistency the whole way, and not just step it up when we have to."
The Guards trailed briefly in the first game, 4-1, before finally going out in front, 7-6. Bell-Jeff never trailed thereafter.
Bell-Jeff took control of the second game, jumping out to an 8-1 advantage. The closest Kern Valley would come to the lead would be three, 16-13.