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Pride sweep Bulldogs, capture CCAL crown
Pitman volleyball
The Pitman High varsity volleyball team finished atop the Central California Athletic League for the third time in four seasons on Thursday with a straight sets sweep of Turlock High (Photo contributed).

The Pitman High varsity volleyball team clinched their title as Central California Athletic League champions on Thursday night, battling past their crosstown rival Turlock High in a hard-fought, straight sets sweep.

The Bulldogs (15-14 overall; 5-4 CCAL) had a shot to win out on the season and earn a share of the CCAL title if the Pride (21-10 overall; 8-1 CCAL) lost to Modesto High next week — and they played like it. Turlock took the Pride beyond 25 points in two out of three sets, with Pitman winning 28-26, 30-28 and 25-22. 

The victory earned Pitman its third league title in four seasons, with the Pride sitting atop the CCAL in 2018 and last spring during the shortened season as well. 

Pitman head coach Kristin Pontes-Christian said she was proud of her team after an early season loss to Downey High. They bounced back, she said, and played everyone better the second time around to claim the CCAL crown.

“I think Turlock definitely wanted it, and we knew that coming in. It’s always hard playing in their gym and we all know that, but we didn’t let the nerves get to us,” Pontes-Christian said. “We just played consistently and confidently and executed when we needed to.”

The Pride was led by key performances from junior outside hitter Megan Hall, who had nine kills on the night, and junior middle hitter Lauren Hamilton, who finished with six blocks. Junior libero Reese Carmona had eight digs during the game, while senior setter Julia Magnu dug out 17 balls herself along with 22 assists and four aces. 

“We have all the weapons, it's just whether we are doing our job on the court or not,” Pontes-Christian said. “We've been doing a lot of that these last few matches, so I hope it continues.”

Turlock head coach Amber Lugo said she was told by the line official after the game, “How does a team that plays that well not win?”

“We made some mistakes right at critical moments, and a couple were just bad luck but all at the wrong time,” Lugo said, adding that the Bulldogs rose to Thursday night’s challenge. “I couldn’t be prouder of them. I wish it had gone our way, but it didn’t. That kind of game sticks with you.”

The Bulldogs left it all on the court, collecting eight aces and 42 kills as a team. The offense was led by four juniors: middle blocker Ella Spalding (12 kills) outside hitter Abby Cogburn (10 kills), middle blocker Katie Parker (nine kills) and right side hitter Ashley Pannell (seven kills). Junior setter Ella Bernard played a key role with 20 assists, and defensively, Cogburn, Madelyn Freeman and Alexia Longacre had 11, nine and eight digs, respectively. 

“I kept saying all year that we're just going to build on our strengths, and they have,” Lugo said. “Our foundation is really good, so I think we're sitting on something special.”

With the loss to Pitman, Turlock is now tied for second place in the CCAL with Downey. Turlock will play their last game at 7 p.m. against Gregori High at home next Tuesday. That same day, Pitman will travel to Modesto to take on Modesto High at 7 p.m.