RIPON — Liberty Ranch just wouldn’t go away.
That was Samantha McCreath’s cue to send the Hawks from Galt packing in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff opener Tuesday.
Ripon held off a late charge and avoided a winner-take-all fifth set thanks to its standout outside hitter, who accounted for her team’s final four points. The fifth-seeded Indians (19-9) dropped the first game before running the table, 23-25, 25-20, 25-9, 25-20. They advance to the quarterfinal round and take on No. 4 Woodland — a four-game winner over Hughson — on Thursday.
After losing the third set decisively, No. 12 Liberty Ranch (21-9) trailed by as much as eight, 16-8, in the fourth but later closed the gap to 21-19. McCreath closed the show in style, racking up three kills — the last of which sealed the victory — and a block. She finished with 22 kills, three blocks and 25 digs.
“It was definitely important for us to finish it right there, because it would have given them the confidence that a team like that can run with,” McCreath said.
Ripon trailed just twice in the final three sets. With Ashlyn Eisenga nursing an Achilles tendon injury, the Indians needed the first game to adjust to playing without their starting libero. They were already minus middle blocker Courtney Slamon (shoulder).
“We couldn’t get our serve receive and our defense together (in Game 1), but once we did that we started rolling,” McCreath said.
Ripon coach Adrienne Beltrami elected to use defensive specialist Devon Denhart as the libero and it paid dividends as she contributed 20 digs.
“The first set I didn’t have a libero,” Beltrami said. “I was just feeling it out to see if we should keep it that way all night long or go pick one for the next set. Ashlynn is an amazing player, but I am very confident in the rest of the team to step up and everybody who played in the back row stepped up.
“We made a decision to put Devin at libero and she really did an amazing job. She communicated really well, talked with the hitters a lot and moves around real well. I’m really proud of her. It was excited to see her do that.”
The Indians dominated much of the second set, leading 21-12 at one point before Liberty Ranch rallied to make it 23-20. Alaina Cornilsen’s ace sent the match to Game 4.
McCreath started at the service line in the fourth set, and her kill from the back row gave Ripon an early 4-0 advantage. Madison McCreath’s kill followed by an ace from Stephanie Petlansky expanded the lead to 20-7, and Samantha McCreath punctuated Ripon’s impressive game with another emphatic spike.
“That’s what we’re capable of doing,” Beltrami said. “Now, it’s just a matter of doing that consistently. We had a lot of leads tonight but we just can’t get complacent with those leads and push a little harder to finish it off.”
Other key contributors were setter Lauren Wiebe (46 assists), Sara DeFrietas (five aces) and Breana Barrios (three blocks).