By Jeremy McDonald
SAINT PAUL, Ore.– The Playoffs are coming fast and teams are making final preparations for it as the regular season is in it’s twilight. And Monday night’s game between 1A power in St. Paul and 2A power Salem Academy were doing just that, making preparations for the postseason ahead when the two met at St. Paul High School.
The Buckaroo faithful, student section and parents, backed their team in what would become a five-set match, making it a loud gym for the teams to play in. For the Crusaders, it was their third five-set match since Saturday. But they too, with their base making the trip to St. Paul, proved to be battle-tested going into and coming out of the match.
A match in which St. Paul would come out with the win, taking the match 25-14, 13-25, 25-23, 18-25, 15-9 for their third-straight win and fourth in their last five games.
“This game, it was huge, it was an incredible match and I thought we played very well,” the Bucks Annabelle Davidson described. “It was fun for everybody and I think it was fun to play, to watch and to coach. It was just executed.”
The game challenged mentally and physically both teams to bounce back, both succeeding in doing so as they traded sets throughout the night. ‘Focus’ was what St. Paul broke their timeout huddles during the second set while Salem Academy rode the momentum from an 8-0 start to the set victory. Focusing up to build a 20-14 lead in the thrid set and hanging on to take the set.
The phrase ‘Iron Sharpens Iron’ was printed on the back of two of the Salem Academy coaches shirts. Knowing that games like this will only make them better. Their rally there at that end of the third set carried to the fourth set, rising to the occasion presented to them to force a decisive fifth-set once more. Making it three in 72 hours for the 2A Salem-based team.
“These are hard teams and they are not easy wins. These are games that are challenging us and these are really important to keep us in check. Losing once-in-a-while is good for you, is good for the soul. It keeps you grounded and it really puts it in perspective,” said the Crusaders Hailey Kriger.
Perspective was right. Games like these, as St. Paul jumped out to a 11-4 lead in the fifth set, giving them perspective of where they’re at and they can work on going into their final league games.
The Buckaroos finish with Perrydale on Tuesday before Willamette Valley Christian and Crosshill Christian to close out Casco League play.
“It was huge for us and I think it will show us how much we need to strive for greatness for all the other playoff games and where personally where we are as a team and how we work together. I think it shows us where we’re at right there and there’s definitely room for improvement,” Davidson said. “I think our transition is covering more of our holes. I think we do a very good job on communication and do well with our hitting and covering, but I think we need to improve those extra things.”
Salem Academy, who closes out with Regis on Tuesday and Willamina on Thursday in the Tri-River Conference, rallied and made sure St. Paul worked for the final point up 14-9 as the Crusaders rallied before ending the match on the next play. But though they fell in three heartbreaking games, the next two will be big for Salem Academy as they look to build some more momentum for the postseason.
“Just remember how we could play. When we are together and we are on, it’s amazing and if we’re on, it’s great. Sometimes we get in our own heads and we’ll mess up and stuff, but I see so much potential in our team if we just stay focused and we just keep going. Just remember how we played in these games and just mirror them,” Kriger said.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald