PENDLETON — The Liberty Falcons only start two seniors in their lineup. Two others are sophomores.
Pendleton volleyball coach Jodi Primus keyed in on those young girls, hoping to exploit some inexperience when the teams met at Warberg Court on Saturday in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
The Falcons provided Pendleton an even matchup in the first game, trailing only for single a point up until an 18-18 tie. But there the Bucks found their opportunity, a way into Liberty’s psyche. A huge block and kill by Charmayne Robinson followed one of the same from Amanda Fowler and Liberty was rattled.
Pendleton began to lean on the Falcons.
“Under pressure, they’re bound to crack and make mistakes,” Primus explained her theory on Liberty’s youth. “I told the girls, ‘You guys have to play really tough and stay really focused and play the mental game. Because if you guys don’t back down...’ ”
Quickly the air disappeared from beneath the Falcons’ wings and inside their lungs. With the score at 21-19, Liberty committed four straight hitting errors. Like punches to its own gut, the Falcons were out of the first set.
From there Pendleton wouldn’t relent and earned its first trip to the state championship’s final site since 2007. Pendleton’s next match comes Friday morning at Liberty High in Hillsboro as part of the final eight-team bracket.
The Bucks are currently in line to face Churchill (21-2), a No. 1 seed and champion of the Midwestern Conference this season. The Lancers of Eugene dropped Mountain View 25-19, 25-9, 25-16 in their own first-round match Saturday.
The Bucks, a No. 4 seed, earned their trip to Hillsboro with a third-set victory Saturday in which Pendleton never trailed after being down 0-2. Xayna Robinson caught fire in the set with seven of her game-total 12 kills.
Her last clinched the 25th point and the match when she blocked down a Liberty shot for her fifth block of the match.
“It was amazing,” Robinson said of the roars from the small but hearty Pendleton crowd that matched the screams of the Bucks on the court. “I think all the adrenaline finally kicked in and we became as one like always and we realized what we’ve done, where we’re going and what we’ve accomplished.”
Pendleton’s Amanda Fowler led the home girls with 14 kills in the match, second only to Liberty’s Janessa Mast, a rare senior on the Falcons’ roster who had 15 kills.
Buckaroo setter Shea Lindsey finished with 29 assists, almost half coming in the decisive third set. She assisted on 14 of the Bucks’ 18 kills in the set.
Lindsey said the Bucks have regained some of the momentum they were cruising with at the end of Columbia River Conference play that was cut short with a loss to rival Hermiston. The Bucks had won 12 straight matches to capture the league title before a five-set home loss to the Bulldogs disrupted their league-finale celebration.
“Really crazy, especially after our loss to Hermiston our very last game,” Lindsey said of her team’s late-season stretch. “That was like really devastating but we just used that to motivate us I guess and work harder in practice, take things more serious and take teams more serious.
“Now we’re ready to go, ready to go to state.”
Rayne Spencer and Charmayne Robinson added seven and six kills respectively to the Bucks’ offense and even Lindsey picked up a pair of kills. The 5-foot-5 setter caught the Falcons looking set when she elevated to go spike on two occasions, while also adding a third-set block.
In the service game, Evangelina Olivera served a perfect 19 of 19 with Pendleton’s only ace. As a whole, the Bucks gave away 10 free points on missed serves though. Servers other than Olivera were only 81 percent from the back line.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.