ATHENA — With the Columbia Basin Conference being stacked with four high-quality teams, every single match is important as the four — Culver, Weston-McEwen, Heppner and Pilot Rock — try to battle for the CBC’s two automatic playoff berths.
Those circumstances made Thursday’s match between Weston-McEwen and Pilot Rock nearly a must-win for both sides. Coming into the match, the TigerScots and Rockets were tied for third in the league, one game behind Heppner and two behind Culver. The two teams battled hard and showed their respective talents, but in the end the TigerScots prevailed on their home floor in four sets, winning 25-18, 20-25, 25-16 and 25-18.
“This was huge,” Weston-McEwen coach Shawn White said of the win. “Our league is ridiculous this year and on our home floor, we needed this. I’m really proud of the girls, it’s homecoming week and some of the girls are exhausted, most of us are sick but I was super, super proud of the effort out there tonight.”
Alyssa Finifrock was outstanding for the TigerScots (13-7, 2-2 CBC), as the tall, lanky senior put up a team-high 12 kills with eight digs, five blocks and four aces.
“This was super important for us,” Finifrock said. “We needed this and it’s a confidence boost for us and it shows what we can do. Our crowd was going crazy and we were all super intense and it’s always fun playing Pilot Rock.”
Behind Finifrock, Hailey Weaver had seven kills and a team-high eight blocks. Bryce Thul had six kills with a team-high 20 assists, while Ellie Scheibner had 11 assists. Chelsea Quaempts led the TigerScots’ defensive effort with 16 solid digs and Emma Olson had nine.
The TigerScots and Rockets (12-6, 1-3) were very evenly-matched all across the court, which led to a lot of close scores to start out each set. But when it came down the stretch, the TigerScots were able to pull away nearly every time with big runs thanks to solid performances from the serving lines. In the first set, Weston-McEwen finished off the win with a 10-3 run, a 10-4 run in the third set and a 13-5 run to close out the fourth set.
The most impressive run was in that fourth set, when Olson served 10 consecutive points for her team with four aces.
“My heavens, that fourth set with Emma, just wow,” White exclaimed. “That’s hard to recover from for the other team.”
Pilot Rock was able to flash its skill in its second-set victory. On offense, the Rockets used some quick passing and smart hits at the net to continually get Weston-McEwen out of position and forced error after error for the TigerScots. Overall, Pilot Rock served 12 aces as a team with five from Jillian Adlard. Abby Rigby led the Rockets with 10 kills with Rhyanne Oates following with nine and Kaitlyn Evans with seven.
And on defense, the Rockets staved off potential TigerScot runs with big defensive saves from several players, notably Oates who had 29 digs including a few highlight-reel ones.
“We battled, our girls were in it and they put everything out on the floor and played with all heart and I can’t ask anything more,” Howland said. “Today definitely came down to who executed most and who made the least amount of mistakes, and we just have to tighten up on our errors.”
With both teams now one round through league play, they know where they stand as a team and what they need to improve on. For the defending state champion TigerScots, Thursday’s game taught White one very key quality about his team.
“It tells me that we’re really super tough,” he said. “We came back from maybe not our best performance of the year on Tuesday (a 3-1 loss to Heppner) plus all the distractions of homecoming, and then to step up ... I can’t say enough about their toughness tonight and that’s been a trademark of this team. They’re tough, they hang in there and that’s what we’ve got to keep relying on going forward.”
Weston-McEwen will play at Union on Tuesday at 5 p.m. and Pilot Rock will play at Union on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Contact Eric at email@example.com or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.