Pitman High was pushed to its limits Thursday night in the second round of the CIF Division I Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs against St. Mary's High. After uncharacteristically dropping the first set to the Rams, the Pride bounced back and battled to five sets for only the second time all season.
Though the tensions were high and St. Mary's was keen on an upset, Pitman managed to advance to the semifinal round of the post-season tournament with a 3-2 win (20-25, 25-18, 25-20, 20-25 and 15-11).
“I was definitely expecting a battle, not necessarily a five game battle to the end, but I give it to St. Mary's. They never gave up,” Pitman head coach Kristen Pontes said.
“I knew they had a lot of good players; I knew it was going to be a good game. Honestly, I didn't think it was going to be that close,” Lindsey Vander Weide said.
Pitman's first-set loss was chalked with inconsistent play as its girls trailed for the majority of the set. Prior to the start of the second set, senior captain Vander Weide appealed to her teammates and spurred them to take the next two sets with scrappy defense and opportunistic power plays.
“I told them, 'that game that we played was not the team that Pitman is. That is not how Pitman plays,'” Vander Weide said. “We play so much better than that. I told them that they did not win the first game, we lost the first game.”
After winning the second set thanks to an eight point run and the third set with the Rams on their heels, the Pride fell flat in the beginning of the fourth set as mistakes and poor communication landed them in a hole, trailing 6-19. Rather than accept the loss and move onto the final set, Pitman opted to fight back and quickly closed the gap with a 13-5 run.
“I think that's what drove us into the fifth game,” Pontes said of her team's fourth set effort. “Had they not done that, the fifth could have gone to St. Mary's.”
As Pitman entered the fifth and final set of the night its girls looked confident. They not only had momentum from the fourth, they also had the recent experience of a five-set battle thanks to a last minute match scheduled with Sonora High before the beginning of the post-season.
“I think the jitters going into a fifth game weren’t' really there as much. It would have been a lot worse if we hadn't gone five with Sonora,” Pontes said. “I'm so happy that we did go five games with Sonora. I think they were ready for it. They knew that we had to come out fighting from the beginning and get the momentum going to control the game, and that's what they did.”
Pitman stormed into the lead and held it for the entirety of the final set to avoid what would have been an upset elimination.
“It's super stressful because there's so much on the line. If we lost that game that would have been the last game of my high school career,” Vander Weide said. “But it definitely helps us knowing that we can win in five games. It helps us going on into the future in case we have another one like that.”
There is now one match remaining between the Pride and the Division I SJS finals at UC Davis. The Pride will host St. Francis High on Tuesday with a match time of 7 p.m.
“We had a few moments where we were very inconsistent, probably the most inconsistent we've been all season. However, again it's all about turning it around and being able to pull out the win. But we have a lot to work on before our semi-final match,” Pontes said.
“I think we need to stay confident in ourselves and stay strong,” Vander Weide said. “If we keep our confidence up we can win any game.”