Bullard High volleyball standout Pookie Gonzalez said her team never wavered as it failed to cash in on match point three times during the Knights' Central Section Division I playoff match against Buchanan on Monday.
And Bullard was ripe for a letdown after getting blown out by the visiting Bears in the third set and letting a six-point lead evaporate late in the fourth.
But the eighth-seeded Knights staved off a match-tying point once themselves before pulling out a 25-22, 25-21, 13-25, 29-27 victory over No. 9 Buchanan.
"Over the season, we've gotten better at keeping our heads straight in a tight situation," said Gonzalez, one of the section's top multi-sport athletes, who followed up a section doubles championship in tennis Saturday by recording 38 assists, 17 digs and 10 kills against the Bears. "We just had to calm ourselves down and make passes."
Bullard led 24-23, 26-25 and 27-26 in the fourth set before a double contact call on Buchanan while returning a serve from Kylie Brown ended the match and earned the Knights a date Wednesday at top-seeded Clovis West (27-5).
Skyler Thomas had seven of her match-leading 20 kills in the decisive fourth set for Bullard (29-8).
"It was really intense," Thomas said. "But that's why we all play volleyball, for those games."
Buchanan (20-15) -- which started four underclassmen, including two sophomores -- held a 14-7 lead in the second set before Bullard rebounded to win the set and take control of the match.
The Knights' rally featured four kills from Thomas and two from Gonzalez, Bullard's dynamic senior duo.
"Our senior leadership was key," Bullard coach Kieran Roblee said. "We have a lot of experience."
Up next for the Knights is a matchup with Clovis West, which has not lost to a Division I team from the section this season.
Roblee said the Golden Eagles "took it to us," during a preseason exhibition in September. Clovis West has played in the past three Division I finals, winning in 2008 and 2009. But the Knights counter with a 13-match winning streak that includes a 10-0 run through the County/Metro Athletic Conference.
"It's going to be a big challenge for us," said Thomas, who also led Bullard with 23 digs. "We're going to have to play the game of our life, but we'll be ready."