HERMISTON — The Pendleton Buckaroos surged to a third and fourth set win on Tuesday but couldn’t overcome the hole they dug for themselves. Hermiston knocked the Bucks out of their groove in the fifth set to hang on for a 3-2 win (25-16, 25-19, 22-25, 22-25, 15-7) and avoid an upset in the regular season finale for both teams.
The Bulldogs (16-6, 10-1 CRC) started the match off in dominating fashion by taking the first two sets by wide margins. At that point it looked like an early night for the teams and another quick win for the Columbia River Conference champion Bulldogs.
But the Bucks (5-11, 4-7 CRC) weren’t done yet and battled for a pair of long set victories, taking advantage of a much sloppier Hermiston team to climb back into the match.
“We just kind of let our guard down and didn’t play as strong as we did in the first few (sets),” said Hermiston head coach Becky Wadekamper. “We just kind of let up.”
That all changed in the fifth set as Bulldogs dodged a bullet by exploding to a quick lead. Momentum — which was heavily leaning toward Pendleton’s side — was flipped when the Bulldogs built a 5-1 advantage. Coach Jodi Primus’ Bucks had played from behind in each of the first four sets but the shortened fifth set — which is played to 15 instead of 25 — made it impossible to finish the comeback.
“We did the same thing every single game,” Primus said. “We let them pull ahead early on and in the fifth game you don’t have time to come back. The third and fourth games we came back.”
Though laying off the gas kept Pendleton in the game, Hermiston’s spikers didn’t panic once the match was at risk, outside hitter Gracie Flyg said. They refocused their attention on cutting down on the hitting errors that left the door open. Without those mistakes, the Bucks could no longer contend.
“There’s always nerves when you go into a fifth set but you can’t play scared,” Flyg said. “You’ve got to go all out. It’s you last chance, the fifth set.
“It was a little scary having to go five games when we thought we should have taken it sooner, though.”
The teams have made a habit of pushing matches to their limits. The last three meetings between the two squads have ended in five sets — all of them Hermiston victories.
Crystal Schmidt was the leading hitter for the Bulldogs with 22 kills, but after eight kills in the first set, the striker largely disappeared in the middle of the match. Flyg picked up her slack, adding 17 kills.
Maloree Moss blocked seven hits while Schmidt and Callahan Crossley each added four. As a team the Bulldogs accounted for 18 service aces.
Xayna Robinson logged the most kills for the Bucks with 17.
Despite their near-opposite season records, both teams have postseason opportunities. Hermiston and Pendleton each have play-in games next week for a shot at the state tournament.