HERMISTON — The final three sets of the Pendleton and Hermiston volleyball rivalry game Tuesday played out like a classic between the two schools. Leads were swapped like clothes at a thrift store and momentum refused to stay in either teams’ camp for more than a few serves.
But that level playing field followed a first-set dismantling of the Bulldogs, putting Hermiston at a distinct disadvantage as soon as the match’s real energy showed itself. Too late it was for a comeback and the Buckaroos improved to 3-0 in Columbia River Conference play in a four-set victory in Hermiston.
The Bucks won 25-11, 24-26, 25-17, 25-21.
Pendleton (4-3, 3-3 CRC) was coming off a pair of losses, first to West Salem in tournament play and then to La Grande. Those downfalls helped prove something to the Bucks, middle blocker Xayna Robinson said.
The Bucks were mentally prepared, but Hermiston didn’t appear to be. The Bulldogs (2-5, 1-2 CRC) gave Pendleton 16 points in the opening set on errors.
After the first-set drubbing, Hermiston woke up. The team huddled up for a pep talk from assistant coach Brenda Burright in between sets and decided to keep fighting rather than turn in, setter Shay Kennison said.
It was a disappointing way to start the 2012 Pendleton-Hermiston matchups, the junior said. Had the Bulldogs come out and played the way they did later in the match, Tuesday’s outcome should have gone down to the wire.
“At the same time, we can just come back and we can beat them at their home,” Kennison said, looking down the road a ways to a Sept. 27 match in Pendleton.
The Pendleton front stayed consistent throughout the game, even as Hermiston started to gain its footing. Robinson finished with 15 kills and seven blocks. Kristin Mascall added another six blocks and Rayne Spencer had eight kills.
Setter Shea Lindsey went over 20 assists for the match.
Hermiston’s massive front line with matching 6-foot-2 towers Shelby Sanders and Hannah Mabbott posed little trouble for the Bucks’ hitters. Mabbott finished with six kills, trailing only team leader Andrea Kappleman’s 10.
“With my hitters I’ve been telling them, ‘Don’t let up under pressure, keep hitting,’ ” Pendleton coach Jodi Primus said. “You don’t have to hit around the block. You can hit hard enough to hit through it or tool it, hit it off of them and let it shank out of bounds.”
When Hermiston was making its runs, they came from the service line. Kennison in particular was an expert from deep, serving a perfect 17-of-17 with five aces.
The Bulldogs will try and right the ship against The Dalles Wahtonka (1-6, 0-3 CRC) at home on Saturday, the only team in the league to fall to Hermiston through one round of matches.
Pendleton hosts Hood River Valley (2-3, 2-1 CRC) that same day.
The Bucks have done a lot of growing up from last year’s 6-13 campaign, Primus said. The difference has been Pendleton isn’t giving any points away on defense.
“(We are) a lot scrappier,” Primus said. “The girls are picking stuff. I told them, ‘If you guys can keep playing really tough defense and pick everything up, it will frustrate the hitters and shut their whole team down. You can shut their offense down with defense and change the game.’ ”
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.