For the second time this season, the No. 3 Eastern Oregon University volleyball team went the distance in a thriller against a top-10 opponent at home.
This time, however, the Mountaineers fell short in the dramatic battle.
Eastern saw a two-set lead disappear and watched No. 9 Southern Oregon grab the final three points in an electrifying fifth set to steal the match, 23-25, 14-25, 25-16, 25-23, 17-15, Friday night at a raucous Quinn Coliseum.
“Long story short, it was a great match,” EOU head coach Kaki McLean-Morehead said. “Great match to watch, great match to play, great match to see. What it came down to was we played great the first two sets, and then we didn’t take advantage of some opportunities that we had in the third and the fourth. We can’t wait until the fifth to respond. We have to do our jobs a little bit sooner in the match.”
Neither team had a major edge in the wild final set, one that was tied 10 times, saw the lead change hands five times and witnessed both teams have match point. Southern had the largest lead in the set, 11-8, on a Taylor Ristvedt kill. EOU battled back to tie the score at 11-11 on a kill by Megan Bunn, an ace by Kiley McMurtrey and a back-row kill from Sade Williams.
A kill by Maddie Pernich briefly gave Southern match point at 14-13, but Taylor Tibbetts and Jet Taylor combined for a block to even the match on a point where the ball — last touched by SOU — roll tantalizingly across the net before falling out of bounds. Tibbetts then had a kill to give EOU match point at 15-14.
But Southern got the last say, retaking the lead on kills by Makayla Hoyt and Elliott Cook before Pernich ended the match with a block.
“There were some things consistency wise that we didn’t carry over, and we really needed to take advantage of those opportunities and in transition,” McLean-Morehead said. “We played it safe instead of playing to win in certain situations, and we really have to do a better job of going for broke on game point.”
The loss was a painful one for EOU to take. A win combined with a victory in one of its final three matches would have given the Mountaineers the Cascade Collegiate Conference title.
“It hurts, but that’s why there are peaks and valleys in a season, and we will learn from this in some way and it will make us better,” McLean-Morehead said.
It was the second time this season the rival schools had gone five sets, and both reached the distance in a similar fashion, with Eastern winning the first two sets and Southern taking the middle two before the road team grabbed the final.
This match — at least early — didn’t seem like it had a chance to go five.
Eastern built a five-point first-set lead, then held on for the opening-set win on an SOU attack error.
The Mountaineers then followed with a dominant effort in the second, breaking open a close set with an 8-0 run to go ahead 22-12 on a Cambree Scott block. Another block later by Scott and Tibbetts finished off the second and gave Eastern a two-set lead.
The Raiders used a 9-0 run to take control of the third set and get back in the match, but Eastern looked primed to end the bout in four. Two straight kills by Bunn — who had a career-best 24 kills on the night — capped an early 6-0 run in the fourth. Eastern eventually built an eight-point lead on several occasions, the last at 17-9 on an SOU error.
But nine straight points gave Southern an 18-17 lead. The teams traded points until it was 22-22, and Scott had a kill to put the Mountaineers up. But Southern got the final three points, and another kill by Ristvedt, one of 21 she had on the night, sent the match to the fifth.
Bunn, in addition to her career-best total in kills, added nine digs. Breanna Shaffer added 10 kills — including three in a row for EOU during a key stretch late in the fourth set. Hailee Ackerman and Scott each added six kills. Taylor added nine block assists and Tibbetts had seven, while McMurtrey had 16 digs. Madison Pilon dished out 41 assists and added 11 digs, and Aspen Christiansen had 12 digs.
The Mountaineers emphatically shook off Friday’s tough loss on Saturday, burying Oregon Tech in its senior night matchup, 25-8, 25-14, 25-10.
The Mountaineers were dominant in every facet of the game, collecting 11 aces and 11 blocks and owning a 44-17 advantage in kills on the night.
Bunn, following her huge match Friday, again led EOU, tallying 14 kills and moving to third on the all-time kill list at EOU with 1,207. Scott added nine kills, and Nina Bailey posted six kills and a team-best six blocks. Bunn added four blocks and also had 17 digs, which was a match-high.
Both Pilon and McMurtrey served up five aces for EOU. Pilon also had 24 assists, and McMurtrey collected 13 digs. Christiansen added 14 digs, and Brooke Dodge had 13 assists.
Two big runs — one of 10-1 and another later of 11-2 — gave Eastern the lead as it rolled to a dominant first-set win. Bunn had five kills in the set, including the final to end it.
EOU sent Tech staggering with an 8-0 run to take command in the second set, which Bunn and Ackerman ended with back-to-back kills, and a 15-1 run in the third gave EOU a commanding 16-2 lead. Pilon and McMurtrey each had three aces during the run. Bailey ended the match a few minutes later with a kill.
EOU (26-2 overall, 16-2 CCC) travels to face Multnomah and Warner Pacific Friday and Saturday to wrap up the regular season. A win over both would give EOU at least a share of the CCC title. The Mountaineers, though, will have to see what SOU does in its final two matches to learn if they have a shot at an outright title or to win a tiebreaker.