PENDLETON — The Bucks and Tigers had already clashed once before this season, where it was Pendleton’s volleyball team that made off with the five-set win. In Tuesday’s rematch, the Bucks swept in three.
In a nonleague contest at Warberg Court, the Bucks cruised to 25-12 and 25-14 wins to claim the first two sets from the 4A Greater Oregon League’s top-ranked La Grande Tigers, but were forced to rally to complete the sweep with a 26-24 third-set victory.
The home win highlighted the Bucks’ “Dig Pink” night, which was held in support of cancer awareness.
“We didn’t play our game in the first two sets,” La Grande coach Melinda Becker-Bisenius said. “We came out and stayed in it in game three, but it was the little things that got us. We need to learn how to finish a game.”
The Intermountain Conference’s fourth-ranked Bucks asserted dominance right away as they allowed just one point against their eight before the Tigers called the first of two timeouts for the set.
The Tigers came within three points off of senior setter Kenzie Williams’ tip after the break, but the Bucks put up seven unanswered points, and senior outside hitter Zoe Jones’ kill helped them to a 10-point, 19-9 lead, forcing the second Tigers timeout.
“We struggled,” Williams said. “We didn’t bring the energy in that first set. We reminded ourselves to play our game, and play it to our abilities.”
La Grande only managed three more points after the break. Meanwhile, Jones, who finished with a match-high 17 kills, helped the Bucks to one more 10-point advantage. Tigers senior outside hitter Jayce Seavert’s return at match point fell out of bounds, handing the Bucks the first set.
“It was our mindset,” Pendleton coach Amanda Lapp said. “We saw them earlier in the season. We had a focused talk at practice yesterday. We knew we’d have to come out strong and work for our points.”
Pendleton stayed just one point ahead to start set two until a three-point rally at 5-4 gave them some distance. They took another 10-point lead off junior middle blocker Josie Wilson’s block. The Bucks would get four more 10-point advantages before the set was through.
Sophomore middle blocker Daisy Jenness slammed a kill that sealed the set.
The Tigers jumped out to its first lead of the night at 5-4 to start the final contest, but Jones tied it at 5-5. Justice had a kill for a 12-8 game later on, forcing Pendleton’s first timeout.
“They’re great competition,” Pendleton senior libero Carissa Cooley said of La Grande. “They always make us work.”
Bucks sophomore outside hitter Sauren Garton rallied off a pair of points to bring Pendleton within two points of La Grande, but the Tigers held firm, eventually taking an eight-point lead.
A Pendleton rally was finished off by two consecutive kills from Jones to bring the set to 21-20, and the Tigers responded with a failed return on the next play, knotting the score at 21-21.
“When she gets in front with the ball, you have confidence in her,” Lapp said of Jones. “You know she’s going to make a play with it, whether it’s a hard swing, or putting the ball where the defense isn’t.”
Jones posted another kill to put the Bucks out front again, but Williams’ ace tied the score one more time. Tigers outside hitter Grace Neer had a block that allowed her team to briefly reclaim the lead, but it wouldn’t last.
Jones had an ace, and an unforced error on La Grande’s side of the net finished off the match.
“It takes a lot of grit to see a team come back like that in the third set,” Lapp said.
House had three aces for the night. Jones, Wilson, and junior designated setter DeLaney Duchek each had two. House also had a team-high nine digs.
Justice led the Tigers with eight kills, and Seavert finished with 14 digs. Williams followed with seven kills.
“The goal is always to win in three,” Cooley said. “We really worked for the win, not only for the people we played for (for Dig Pink), but for our confidence going back into the league.”
Pendleton (5-7, 2-3 IMC) hosts Redmond in a conference matchup on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. La Grande (16-4, 3-0 GOL) heads to the Seaside Tournament on Saturday.