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First-place Escalon rallies for competitive sweep
Ripon High outside hitter Paige Goodger takes a swipe at the ball in front of Nicole Bianchis block during the Indians Trans-Valley League showdown with visiting Escalon Thursday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

RIPON — Ripon High’s rematch with Escalon didn’t last as long as their Trans-Valley League opener back on Sept. 18, but second-year coach Adrienne Uecker came away more satisfied with Thursday’s effort.

The first-place Cougars swept 25-19, 25-21, 25-22, using strong finishing runs to cap each set. It’s Escalon’s fifth consecutive win over its traditional rival, a streak that includes last year’s second-round sweep in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.

Ripon (3-4, 9-8 overall) nearly upset the Cougars in their previous meeting, falling in five after taking the first two sets.

“We picked up on some things (in their last match) that we needed to improve on to play with them,” Uecker said. “I really believe that this could have been anyone’s game. I think we actually played them better this time, and I’m happy with that.”

Each game was nearly a mirror image of the others, with both teams trading hard-earned points and engaging in some wild rallies until the Escalon (8-0, 13-5) found ways to sprint away with the momentum.

Ripon’s best chance to win a set was the third. The Indians took control early, taking a 3-2 lead and stretching it as far as four, 15-11. Escalon coach Teresa Williamson called her only timeout of the match, and it did plenty good for her Cougars. Samantha Shipley sparked them with a kill after the short break. Nicole Bianchi later served up two aces, the second of which gave Escalon an 18-16 lead. Her own kill from the back row widened the lead, and off the Cougars went.

“We’ve been struggling with (finishing) all season,” Uecker said. “Against a good team like Escalon, when you can get a four-point lead against them you have to keep the pressure on them. We’d have a couple serve-receive errors and then get down on ourselves.

“This is a game of momentum, so when you get a couple of errors back-to-back sometimes it’s tough to overcome that. My girls put more pressure on themselves than I do.”

Ripon did have its moments and had many players in on the action. Junior outside hitters Paige Goodger and Emily Brutout pounded out 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Goodger displayed versatility as evidenced by her 20 digs.

Standout setter Lizzy Nizzoli came through with 35 assists, 22 digs and eight kills. Kristen Carthart added seven kills to the attack, while veteran libero Paige Burrell and Melanie Wilkerson had 15 digs apiece.

Cassidy Caton paced Escalon with 17 kills.

With the second half of the league season now underway for the Indians, a sense of urgency is beginning to set in with a postseason berth at stake. They will look to avenge losses to Hilmar and Modesto Christian the rest of the way out.

The top three finishers qualify for the playoffs, and a fourth could make it with a .500-or-better league record.

“We absolutely don’t want to be that (fourth-place) team, but we have four strong teams in the TVL,” Uecker said. “The TVL hasn’t been this competitive for a long time.”

Valley Oak League

Oakdale 3, Manteca 0

The Buffaloes found themselves battling in five-game matches in each of their last two VOL matches, but Manteca wouldn’t get that chance in Oakdale, falling 23-25, 11-25, 12-25.

Manteca was able to keep it respectable through the first game, but the series shifted dramatically from then on.

Ashley Gase had three aces to led Manteca, while Julia Martinez had four kills and Morgan Miramontes added three.