HERMISTON — On Tuesday night an entirely new Hermiston volleyball team took the court to start the rivalry match against Pendleton.
The Bulldogs commanded an early lead and came out with all cylinders firing as they took the first two sets. But once again, Hermiston’s youth and inexperience crept in and gave Pendleton enough room to make its move. The Bucks rallied in the final three sets to take the match 3-2 at The Dawg House.
“We had to dig deep,” Pendleton coach Amanda Lapp said. “We’ve seen it a little bit over the last week, they kind of get themselves in a rut and we’ve got a couple of our key players that are out and are hurt and we’re trying to work through that. It’s nice to see them dig in with a lot of heart and play hard.”
While the Buckaroos (10-3 overall, 5-1 CRC) have dominated the Columbia River Conference for much of the season, a recent speed-bump slowed down their momentum. They suffered their first league loss to Hood River Valley a week ago, and it looked as if their second was going to be handed to them Thursday night.
But the Bulldogs (2-13, 0-6) have had little go their way in league play and even after putting on a show this time around, the outcome was still the same. They have now won only five sets on the season, as their youth has been a big factor in its output.
“I hate that it keeps coming back to this, but we’re young,” Hermiston head coach Amy Dyck said. “So, we win those first two sets and then we start getting distracted and then we start paying more attention to what we’re doing wrong instead of focusing and building on what we’re doing right.”
Despite the loss, there were some shining moments for the Bulldogs.
“We take away that we are more than capable of not just hanging with these teams but with beating these teams,” Dyck said. “A lot of hope is built on matches like this, because we did show a lot of great stuff.”
In the first set, Hermiston took an early lead after going on a 6-4 run but Pendleton hung in there and took control itself after some unforced errors by the Bulldogs.
Back-to-back service aces from Hermiston junior Scout Reagan knotted the set at 13 points apiece, but both teams kept trading the lead.
Pendleton forced Hermiston to take a timeout after the Bulldogs experienced a break down in their defense and communication. The Bulldogs then forced the Bucks to take a breather after Hermiston junior Ireland McDonough brought the Bulldogs with in one point. After the short break and the score 21-22 in favor of Pendleton, McDonough served an ace to tie the score, and a wide serve and attack error by Pendleton followed to end the first set 25-23 for the Bulldogs.
It was the third time this year the Bulldogs have won the first set and they carried that momentum with them right into the second.
Hermiston went on an early run, and recorded eight unanswered points to push its lead to 12-5. The Bulldogs where dominate in the second set, and never gave up control of the board. They cruised to a 25-19 victory to take control of the match at two sets to none.
“We played really relaxed and we were able to come together as a team,” Hermiston senior Lesly Santoyo said of the team’s opening performance. “If somebody made a mistake we shook it off and I think we play a lot better that way.”
But things quickly changed.
“The next three sets we were really tentative on our swings and we weren’t really hustling on defense,” Santoyo added. “It was hard but those first two sets were one of best we’ve ever played all season.”
Pendleton showed why they are tied for the top spot in the league and a top-15 team as they battled back to win the final three sets, 25-15, 25-16, and 15-7.
A key player in the Bucks comeback was senior middle blocker Maureen Davies. She ended the night leading the team with 11 kills and four blocks and was Pendleton’s momentum changer in its third set victory.
“She really plays a key role in being an offensive front for us,” Lapp said of Davies. “She goes up and she plays good defense on the offensive line and then she goes up and swings hard when we need her and puts the ball in good places. She’s been a key role in our offense making sure everybody is clicking and staying and working together.”
For Hermiston, Santoyo kept a few rallies alive with her performance at the net and landed five kills. Sophomore Emma Combes led the Bulldogs with 13 kills and 13 digs. McDonough added 12 digs of her own, and senior Breena Wadekamper finished with 10. Junior middle blocker Sophia Streeter ended the night with a team-high two blocks.
“If we’re going to go down, then we’re going to go down swinging and fighting,” Dyck said. “Credit to (the girls) for having the courage to swing in those big plays because that does take a lot of courage especially when it’s that tight on the line. Plays like that last one where Lesly waffled it out of bounds, I had a smile on my face because at least she was swinging and that’s all that I ask for.”
Hermiston will host its final home match next week when the Bulldogs welcome The Dalles. They have faced the Riverhawks twice this season, and dropped both matches 1-3, 2-3.
Pendleton has a short turnaround, and will travel to La Grande on Thursday for a 6:30 p.m. match.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.