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Eagles give Knights run for their money in SL battle
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RIPON — Ripon Christian has finally met its match in the Southern League, and its impressive run of conference victories nearly met its end Monday night against Turlock Christian.

Turlock Christian shook off a lackluster start, won a riveting Game 4 and appeared to be on its way to halting the Knights’ streak at 51 while holding an 11-8 lead in the decisive fifth set.

Ripon Christian warded off the Eagles — 25-11, 25-17, 15-25, 28-30, 15-12 — in dramatic fashion, and with its best players clutching up for one last heart-stopping rally.

It was the Knights’ big three that fittingly put an end to the madness — Teagan Manus serve, Andie Shelton set and Dani Erdelatz kill. 

Make it 52 in a row.

“That was really intense,” Shelton said.

The Pacific-commit led Ripon Christian (10-0 SL, 12-4 overall) with 22 assists, 10 kills and seven aces. Manus finished with 11 kills and 27 digs, while Erdelatz blasted 12 kills. Amber Hilvers, RC’s 6-foot-4 transfer from Gregori, contributed 12 blocks.

“I’m not disappointed with the result,” said Turlock Christian’s Sarah Amaral, who led all players with 27 kills. “I think we worked hard, but in the end Ripon Christian has bigger players and more skill. I do think we kept up with them really well.”

Setter Tiffany Franco handed out 32 assists, Meghan Mark picked up 17 digs and Nichole Sanders tallied four aces.

With both teams taking turns battling bouts of sloppy play in the early going, it wasn’t until the fourth game that match had truly started. There were six lead changes and seven game-point situations in the end.

The Eagles (7-4, 17-11) took an 18-13 with Amaral’s kill midway through, and she spiked another for a 24-22 lead.

Ripon Christian’s big-hitting triumvirate kept the Knights alive, first with a big kill from Shelton. They had match point in hand on three occasions but couldn’t stave off Amaral, Anna Larson and Victoria Viera — the Eagles’ own heavy-hitting trio. At one point during this back-and-forth affair, the two teams traded five points via kills in succession. It wasn’t until a Ripon Christian hitting error that the game was claimed.

“Those are the moments I live for,” Amaral said. “Both teams worked and fought so hard in that game. When you win a game like that it’s a great feeling.”

The feeling evaporated in the fifth set. Samantia Favila hammered a kill for Turlock’s largest cushion of the game, 11-8.

Following a Ripon Christian timeout, Manus scored on back-to-back kills, and Shelton served six points in succession to give command back to the Knights, 13-11.

Despite the heartbreaking defeat, the Eagles are still in a good position to qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs and defend their Division VI crown. Win or lose, playing teams like Ripon Christian, which is placed in the more competitive Division-IV level, makes them stronger.

“We don’t go up against teams like Ripon Christian in the playoffs. In the playoffs last year we saw teams that weren’t as big and didn’t hit as hard. Playing a team like Ripon Christian definitely makes us a better team, so playing against them is definitely an honor,” said Amaral.