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Pride remains perfect after defeating crosstown rivals
Pitman volleyball
Pitman's Ella Sniezek and Madison Eissayou attempt to block a spike from Turlock during the game Wednesday evening. Pitman won 3-0 (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Pitman High’s volleyball team turned in a dominating performance Wednesday night, clinching the school’s ninth conference championship under head coach Kristen Pontes-Christian with a 25-14, 25-22, 25-15 win over crosstown rival Turlock.

The Pride improve to 27-2 overall and 9-0 in Central California Athletic League action, while Turlock — the only team within a game of Pitman entering Wednesday’s showdown — falls to 16-11 and 7-2. The Bulldogs would’ve needed a win to squeeze out a co-championship.

Pitman and Turlock have just one more league game to play on Monday — the Pride against Modesto and the Bulldogs on the road against Gregori — before the release of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoff brackets. Pitman, with an enrollment of just under 2,200, could drop into the D-II playoffs depending on how the D-I bracket materializes.

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Pitman's Payton Rowell sets the ball during the game against Turlock Wednesday evening (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

The postseason gets underway on Oct. 24.

The atmosphere at Pitman High on Wednesday looked more like a playoff game than a regular-season matchup. Championship implications, a pep band and raucous student sections created a buzz in the gymnasium even during warm-ups.

“Knowing that we had a huge crowd, I just wanted to play for my team,” said senior Lauren Hamilton. “There was a little bit of pressure, but I knew that our team could do it.”

The teams went back and forth in the opening game, with Pitman holding a slim 8-6 lead. Turlock won a point to make it a one-point deficit — or so it seemed — until the referees reversed the call and gave the point to Pitman, making it 9-6 instead of 8-7. That seemed to momentarily unsettle the Bulldogs and the Pride pounced, increasing the lead to 13-7. Pitman would cruise to a 10-point win in the opening set.

Turlock bounced back in the second game and led 15-10, but a timeout by Pitman interrupted the ’Dogs’ momentum, and the Pride slowly reeled them in, eventually tying game No. 2 at 20-20 and winning 25-22.

turlock volleyball
Turlock's Meg Crowell bumps the ball during the Bulldogs’ game against Pitman (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Heading into the showdown, Turlock coach Amber Lugo mentioned that her team needed to be aggressive throughout — and the Bulldogs played stretches where they were less than aggressive.

“If I could figure that out, we’d probably be having a different conversation,” said Lugo after the loss. “It’s been a season-long problem … We’re great when we’re swinging, but the minute we stop swinging, it gets rough.”

Pitman, meanwhile, seemed focused on every single point.

“We talked about that,” said Pitman coach Pontes-Christian. “It’s so loud in here, we just had to stay in the zone. Minus the second set, a couple of points here and there — and I also thought Turlock picked it up in the second set so I give them credit for that — I thought we were right on and made very few mistakes.

“They have talented players, they have great hitters, they have a great block. And we know that. So, we really worked on block coverage and not being surprised when we get blocked and just swinging away again.”

Individually for Pitman, senior Lauren Hamilton had 10 kills and eight blocks, while Ella Sniezek had eight kills and four ace serves. Madison Eissayou and Maryn Hall chipped in with six kills each. Hall also contributed three ace serves. Reese Carmona led the way with 13 digs and setter Payton Rowell totaled 35 assists.

For the Bulldogs, Lauren Parker had eight kills, Katie Parker had five kills and three ace serves, Ella Spaulding had four kills and three blocks, while Lillie Miranda and Maddie Freeman had 12 and 8 digs, respectively.