The Hermiston Bulldogs stole a second-set victory behind impeccable serving and never looked back while beating the Milwaukie Mustangs 25-15, 26-24 and 25-13 on Tuesday in a play-in game for the 5A state tournament.
Hermiston (18-6, 11-1 CRC) took the first set without much protest from the Mustangs (3-17, 1-13 NWOC) of the Northwest Oregon Conference but trailed 24-19 late in the second set. Mental mistakes and hitting errors put Hermiston in the doghouse, but the home team showed the same tenacity that helped it win a conference title this season.
Gracie Flyg stepped in and served six straight winners as Hermiston rallied for seven points to deflate a rejuvenated Milwaukie squad.
“I was basically thinking just get it in and our defense will do the work from there,” said Flyg, a senior. “I (knew) if we let them get an attack off my serve we could still get it up.
In the third set, senior Crystal Schmidt took over the match. The hitter had kills on five of her team’s first eight points as they crafted a staggering lead. Schmidt had 19 kills overall with nine coming in the final set.
Schmidt’s power approach — rocketing spikes at defenders — had resulted in several hitting errors earlier in the match. In the third she amended her game, adding finesse and lightly dropping balls just over the blockers’ wavering arms.
“I was just not on tonight so I (resorted) to my other good strategy, which is tipping the corners, chip-shotting, going to the spots they’re not at,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt’s late-match scoring emulated the plan coach Becky Wadekamper drew up for her players. Their ability to adjust when the norm isn’t working is an attribute that should serve the team well against difficult opponents in the future, she said.
“We just didn’t play our level of game but we did do better toward the third set of exposing their middle, which they weren’t defending well,” Wadekamper said.
Adjusting to the situation worked Tuesday, Flyg said, but the Bulldogs will need to be able to make those changes earlier in matches if they expect a lengthy stay in the state playoffs. Not all opponents will allow so much wiggle room.
“From here on out we have to be playing our best because the teams are all going to be pretty good,” Flyg said.
Hermiston will host the Wilson Trojans (14-4) in a playoff game Saturday. Wilson swept Putnam Tuesday in three sets Tuesday and is a No. 6 seed in the Class 5A bracket.