By Jerry Heinzer
Democrat staff writer
EL DORADO HILLS — Katie Vaughn thought shed ended Thursday’s five-set cliffhanger with Ponderosa High 15 minutes earlier and then again right after that. She finally did with a blazing spike that was tipped at the net, capping a thrilling Oak Ridge comeback as the Trojans avoided a regular season sweep in outlasting the Bruins 23-25, 27-25, 21-25, 25-14, 20-18 in overtime.
As fans clung to the edge of their seats, the teams battled late into the fifth set when several non-calls, two against Oak Ridges Vaughn and one against Ponderosas Alex Rader, denied the respective squads match-clinching points to prolong the night. Tied at 18s, Vaughn connected twice more to push Troy to the Delta River League victory.
“It was our most emotional match of the season and we had so much energy built up to play them and that energy is why we won,” Vaughn said.
While Thursdays match had a tense end, it also had a somber beginning as both teams, players, coaches and those in attendance came together to recognize breast cancer awareness. Termed ‘Think Pink’, and organized by the Bruins Samantha Rains, the event featured guest speaker Judy Pickett whose talk brought the disease in focus. After fans gave to the cause, Oak Ridge and Ponderosa gave a rousing performance that lasted nearly three hours.
“Normally we don’t do well under pressure and when momentum doesn’t go our way we usually tank,” a relieved Troy coach Becky Potter said. “We wanted it more than anything. Ponderosa is big and physical and we don’t have anything on them. But it shows that any team that plays with heart can beat anybody.”
The Bruins displayed their heart in battling back from a 14-10 match-point deficit in the fifth game. Rains’ kill kept Ponderosa alive before Sara Hickenbottom blocked Vaughn to get Ponderosa half way back. Vaughn then smoked a kill that appeared to be tipped to win it but the hit was ruled out as Oak Ridge, shaking its heads, called for time.
Still at match point, Vaughn hammered a stray Bruin ball that clearly went off a Bruin but inexplicably, again, was ruled out to tie the score.
Seizing the opening, Rains and Hickenbottom teamed to tap -dunk a wayward Oak Ridge hit and Rader’s smash took a deflected trajectory to give Ponderosa the win but the referees refused to call it inbounds and the teams played on.
Rader and Vaughn each scored twice before Trojan Haley Simmons landed a kill for an 18-17 lead. The Bruins stared defeat in the face after sending back a free ball but Hailey Bellmer rejected an Oak Ridge spike before Vaughn took over to win it.
“I’m real proud we had the fight in us that we did. This team has consistency issues and we ran into them hard tonight. Usually when we’re in a funk we can get out of it but not tonight,” Ponderosa coach Sheri Millhollin said. “We waited for their mistakes instead of taking charge. Katie Vaughn took over and we didn’t have anyone to play defense on her.”
With its gym under reconstruction, the Oak Ridge court is Ponderosas home away from home but also advantageous to Troy. Still, the Bruins grabbed the opening game when Lindsay Bowles recorded two late kills and Rader’s tip down the line switched the benches.
The second game was equally tight. Ponderosa separated itself behind the play of Lianna Sybeldon before Vaughn’s back-to-back aces tied the score at 20-20. Sybeldon and Vaughn traded kills and Rains’ block of a dump preceded Vaughn who split the Bruins defense yet again.
Oak Ridge held the upper hand on kills from Vaughn, Arden Zuber and Simmons while Ponderosa hung in on Hickenbottom’s block, Rains’ cross-court zinger and Rader’s missile. Simmons tied the match on her block of Sybeldon.
“We’ve been working toward this match for the past couple weeks,” said Trojan setter Nikki Haggard who was starting for the first time this season due to injury. “We wanted to show them a completely different team — one that’s grown, is in-sync, communicates and isn’t scared.
The Bruins were 2-0 against Oak Ridge this season and win No. 3 was that much closer as Ponderosa took the third game behind the setting of Madison Macauley. Again, Bowles came on late and Vaughn’s hit to the net had the Shingle Springs team up 2-1.
Despite a late 7-3 run. Game No. 4 was a stinker for the Bruins who were never in it. As Haggard ran the show, Vaughn successfully attacked from the low back row as the Trojans easily sent the match to its fifth and deciding game.
In the fifth game, Ponderosa quickly fell back 2-0 but recovered to lead 5-2 on Macauley’s ace. Oak Ridge came back to lead 10-7 on Vaughn’s ace and 14-10 on Zuber’s kill before the Bruins rallied, officiating went south and Troy pulled it out.
“It’s not as disappointing that we didn’t win … it’s that we couldn’t beat them again. Instead of playing to win we played not to lose,” said Rains who worked tirelessly to make the Think Pink week of events come to fruition despite having to take the ACTs Saturday. “I put my heart and soul into this homework came second. The whole campus was involved, the Trojans, and though it’s a lot of hard work it’s overall very satisfying.
Notes: The Bruins came together to share an emotional moment in support of one of their own after Thursday’s game. Time constraints have hampered the team’s ability to mourn for teammate Alex Mettler who lost her mother to cancer two months ago. Ponderosa released a balloon skyward to honor her memory.