Eagles hand Bucks first league loss

Staff photo by E.J. HarrisPendleton's Ellen Nirschl spikes the ball into Hood River blockers Emilie Ellifritz and Katie Kennedy (9) in the Bucks' loss to the Eagles on Tuesday in Pendleton.

PENDLETON — For the first three weeks of the season, it was smooth sailing for the Pendleton Buckaroos volleyball team.

The Buckaroos won seven straight matches and dropped just one set during that stretch, including a 3-0 win on the road against defending Columbia River Conference champion Hood River Valley. However, Hood River Valley came back to Pendleton for a rematch Tuesday night and put away the Buckaroos with a 3-0 victory of its own, handing Pendleton its first league loss and its second straight loss overall.

“They obviously prepared for our tipping and chipping (offense), which is what we used when we went there,” Pendleton’s Kalan McGlothan said. “We needed to counter, do something else, but we were so used to tipping and chipping that we couldn’t get back to our rhythm fast enough.”

Pendleton (7-2, 3-1 CRC) hung around in each set, losing 25-19, 25-23, 25-22, but the difference in Tuesday’s match came down to Hood River Valley’s (7-4, 3-1 CRC) hitters, especially senior Shae Duffy and junior Katie Kennedy. The Eagles overwhelmed Pendleton’s defense with fast, thundering spikes, with Kennedy tallying 15 kills and Duffy with 11 in the match.

“When the ball’s moving that fast, it’s hard to get far enough back to where you can effectively pass it,” Pendleton coach Amanda Lapp said. “We needed to be bigger at the net to be able to take some speed off the ball and that’s where we kind of fell apart, not having as much of a presence as we normally do.”

All three sets were a battle for both teams. In the first set, the Buckaroos and Eagles traded points back-and-forth to start but then the Eagles gained some momentum and went on a run, building up a 19-11 lead. Pendleton battled back, cutting the deficit to 21-17 before the Eagles finished off the first set victory.

In the second set it was the Buckaroos that started out fast for a 6-2 lead but Hood River later went on a 10-0 run to grab a 15-11 lead. Once again, Pendleton battled back. Helped by three kills from Maureen Davies, the Buckaroos got within 23-22 and 24-23 before Kennedy finished off the set with a kill for the win.

“It’s good to see them fight and hang in,” Lapp said. “We struggled with that over the weekend, but we fought in tonight and it was good to see that grit when we got down. But at the same time, there are those little things that can kick you in the head and keep their leads and we ended up falling short tonight.”

Hood River got the advantage to start the third set for an early 8-5 lead and eventually turned that into a 20-15 lead. However once again, Pendleton was not ready to wave the white flag. Davies turned in four more of her 13 total kills as Pendleton went on a 5-1 run to make it a one-point game at 21-20. But Kennedy stepped in for the Eagles again with three kills to help Hood River finish off the match.

“We always come back,” McGlothan said. “When it looks like we’re going to lose, nope, we go until the very last second and think we can win. We never give up and it’s not in us or Bucks these days.”

Behind Davies’ performance, Pendleton’s offense was quiet with Jaiden Lemberger and Rylee Gentner each contributing two kills and Elli Nirschl and McGlothan each had one. Kirah McGlothan led the Buckaroos with eight digs while Aspen Garton and Lauren Richards had four. Other team leaders included Richards with 14 assists and Talia Lunny with three aces.

While the Buckaroos are still in a good position to reach the postseason down the road, Lapp hopes that Tuesday’s loss and the loss on Saturday at the Oregon City tournament to Canby, refocuses her team.

“I walked in here tonight and told them ‘You have to believe in yourself and believe and know that you can do it and just have to show and mentally think it’,” Lapp said. “That’s kind of what we’re getting away from a little bit is they’re resting back a little bit like ‘We’ve done this, excelled at it over the first round of league play’ and they just kind of walked into tonight like that so hopefully we’ll see some turnaround and see them come back and fire up just like they used to.

UP NEXT

Pendleton heads back to the west side of the state for more tournament action, this time heading to Westview on Saturday morning.

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Contact Eric at esinger@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.

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