RIPON — Hilmar wasn’t going down without a fight.
Neither was Ripon, and it was the Indians who landed the knockout blow in the thrilling third set of an otherwise one-sided Trans-Valley League match at North Gym on Thursday.
Outclassed for much of the first two games, the three-time defending champion Yellowjackets proved they had some sting left while mounting a late rally to take a 24-23 lead in Game 3. Ripon was unfazed, finishing off Hilmar with three unanswered points and completing a 25-14, 25-19, 26-24 sweep.
“Our girls have confidence,” Ripon coach Erin Cutino said. “Even though we were behind in that last game they weren’t going to roll over. They have confidence that they could come back. We work on that all the time in practice. I know that they have that confidence in themselves and that is their greatest strength right now.”
The home crowd erupted in celebration after Samantha McCreath powered a spike through the defense for the clinching point. She earlier tied it at 24-24 with another one of her team-high 18 kills, and Jessica Stanley served an ace to give the first-place Indians (3-0 TVL, 5-1 overall) match point.
The Yellowjackets (2-1, 9-10) may not be the same club that ruled the TVL over the past three years with graduated 6-foot-2 middle blocker Emily Baptiste now at Pacific, but Ripon did not take them lightly a week after beating traditional rival Escalon in four games. The Indians are on track to claim their first TVL title since winning four straight from 2006-2010.
“This was our next big one,” Cutino said. “You never know how Hilmar is going to come out after the previous years, so we definitely wanted to be prepared for anything they threw at us.
“You never know in league. People rise up and they come after you. We have a target this year like Hilmar had it last year. We have to be ready for everything, bottom line.”
Ripon established itself at the outset, leading 11-3 at one point. Three of Hilmar’s first four points were scored on service errors from Ripon, which never trailed in the opening set.
The Indians later held a 13-7 advantage after one of their big highlights of the night. Standout libero Ashlyn Eisenga made a diving dig, and she deflected it perfectly for Lauren Weibe to quick set a Breana Barrios’ thunderous spike.
Eisenga ended Game 1 with an ace, and Weibe did the same to secure Game 2 for Ripon. Hilmar’s largest lead of the match was 23-20 in the third set.
“We started making our own errors and had to refocus on finishing the game, play how we play,” Weibe said. “We just put the ball down and finished it.”
Barrios finished with 15 kills and three blocks, while Eisenga had 26 digs and three aces. Weibe set 38 assists, and while most of them went to Barrios and McCreath others — such as Madison McCreath, Makayla Buie, Emily Qualle and Janessa Inderbitzin — also had their moments.
Inderbitzin helped get Ripon back on track after trailing for the first time early in the second set, coming up with a one-on-one block against Mariah Ahid, Hilmar’s top hitter.
“Sam’s a great hitter, but it’s nice to have options all over the court,” Weibe said. “They can get the job done as well.”
Ripon Christian 3, Orestimba 0
RIPON — The Knights (4-0, 9-6 overall) left little doubt in this first-place battle, sweeping Orestimba (3-1, 7-11) 25-19, 25-14, 25-13.
Paige Vos crushed 22 kills to pace the attack. Carly Eastham added 12 kills to go with seven digs and four aces. Bethany Silveira contributed 22 digs.
“The girls played united and are really starting to gel well,” Ripon Christian coach Jocelyn Benziger said. “They took advantage of opportunities to capitalize on points. They played well tonight.”