Pirates claim own tournament championship

HIDALGO — After a tough semifinal win, the Hidalgo Pirates steamrolled the PSJA Memorial Wolverines in two straight sets to claim the championship of the seventh annual Hidalgo Varsity Volleyball Tournament on Saturday at Hidalgo.

Melanie Salinas was a force at the net as she earned MVP honors for Hidalgo, which won the title match 25-10, 25-15.

“Our opponents have to change their hitting style because of her,” fifth-year head coach Kaydee Benavidez said. “They’re having to go around her for their hits. She’s our first line of defense.”

It’s the first time Hidalgo has taken the Hidalgo tournament title under Benavidez. She credits the team’s experience (nine returners and five seniors) not just from last year but also from this year’s third-place finish in a tournament in San Antonio.

“We came into this tournament with a lot of confidence,” Benavidez said. “We really came together as a team.”

The team pulled off a gritty semifinal win over Brownsville Porter 19-25, 25-21, 15-12. The Wolverines also emerged from a competitive semifinal having bested PSJA North 25-23, 25-22.

Carolina Carbajal sparked Hidalgo with five aces in the first set of the championship. Hidalgo led 15-10 before whipping off 10 consecutive points (including four aces by Carbajal) to take the first set in decisive fashion.

In the second set, Hidalgo again jumped to an early lead at 9-4 following a kill by Jacky Garcia. PSJA Memorial fought back on the strength of timely hitting and blocks by Victoria Gonzalez and Vianey Salazar but were never able to gain the lead.

Vanessa Espinoza had five kills in the two games including a cross-court beauty for the match winner. Salinas also had two big blocks at the net down the stretch.

Carbajal and Espinoza are both seniors and returning starters for the Class 4A Pirates.

“This is (Carbajal’s) first year playing front row,” Benavidez said. “She was a defensive specialist in the back last year. Playing front row, she has got her momentum in her swing and so she’s able to place her ball on her serves and she’s come up big for us on her services. Vanessa, I think, has got her groove on her hits. She’s not hesitating. She came into this year with a lot of confidence.”

Brownsville Lopez defeated La Feria to claim the consolation (Blue Bracket) trophy.

Hidalgo went 6-0 in the tournament and defeated PSJA Memorial twice, having faced them earlier in the week in pool play. The Pirates beat Valley View in the quarterfinal before facing Porter. PSJA Memorial (4-2 in the tourney) topped Donna North in its quarterfinal.