ESCALON — To simplify things, Ripon Christian head coach Tiger Shelton tells his players that volleyball “is a race to 75.”
The race came to a screeching halt for several excruciating minutes late in Game 4, as the Knights were in danger of blowing an eight-point lead to top-seeded Escalon in Tuesday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal.
Escalon, down 24-16, scored six unanswered and threatened to force a deciding fifth set with all the momentum on its side. That did not happen because of an untimely misserve, sending Ripon Christian to its sixth section finals appearance in a row with a dramatic four-set (25-11, 25-21, 22-25, 25-22) victory.
“We like to end it off nice, but a win is a win,” said Ripon Christian setter Andie Shelton, who is accustomed to her team capping matches with a bang. “I think we were all just so excited that we were going to win. We wanted it to be over and celebrate the victory. It ended up being a little stressful, but we weren’t going to let it happen.”
The No. 4-seeded Knights (27-6) will meet No. 2 Bear River of Grass Valley Thursday at UC Davis. Bear River swept No. 3 Sonora 25-4, 25-23, 25-15 in the other semifinal contest.
It’s a trip Ripon Christian is used to making having won a section-most 15 postseason titles, but all of them were in Division V.
“It’s harder getting there (being in Division IV),” RC libero Kaylie Colyn said. “Nobody thought we could, but we did.”
Escalon (25-6) did well to make it a match after dropping the opening set so decisively and digging itself an even bigger hole by losing the second.
The third game was the most competitive, featuring eight lead changes and Escalon’s largest advantage (four points) of the match. Krysten Rose and Samantha Shipley’s assisted block made it 19-15 Escalon, but RC recaptured the lead for a moment after the Cougars gave up a point on a four-hit violation.
Cassidy Caton, Escalon’s standout outside hitter, came through with the tide-turning kill, and her team racked up the final four points to extend the match. Adalia Cajias clinched the fourth game with a well-placed hit to the back left corner.
“We practice with each other a lot, so we know a lot about Escalon and they know a lot about us,” said Coach Shelton. “They aren’t real big, but they are real scrappy and they play defense. To be good in this area, you have to be able to serve well and pass well, and that’s what they do. (Caton) is their best weapon; she is going to get her kills.”
Ripon Christian took the lead for good in the final game when Teagan Manus put away a kill off a quick set from Andie Shelton, making it 15-14. Shelton’s own kill gave RC match point at 24-16 before Caton and Rose spearheaded the Cougars’ desperation comeback attempt with some key hits.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Colyn said. “They pushed us hard. They are a really good team, but we just had to keep it together and pull out the win.”
Colyn led the Knights with 24 digs, while Brittany Petlansky had 20 to go with nine kills. Kristy Van Diver paced the offense with 13 kills. She hammered game-clinching spikes at the end of the first and second games. Stephanie Van de Pol added 11 kills and seven assists, and Manus finished with seven blocks.