The volleyball hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, just in front of the Oakdale High net. When it finally fell to the hardwood amidst a crowd of stunned Lady Mustang players, it brought with it a 3-1 end to a thrilling and hard-fought Valley Oak League showdown inside the Mustang gymnasium on Thursday.
The point represented the final tally in a 25-19 fourth-game loss to visiting Sonora. The Wildcats took a 2-1 advantage after 25-21, 25-18, 17-25 scores, winning a match between two undefeated VOL programs on the hunt for a league title.
“I didn’t think I could get to that last ball, so I called for help, but I guess they didn’t hear me and no one got to it,” Oakdale senior setter Jackee Lee said. “Our intensity in the second and third game was up, but our serving was off and we started really slow.”
Both Oakdale (10-5 overall, 6-1 VOL) and Sonora (11-6, 7-0) entered Thursday’s contest with an unblemished league résumé that included an 18-0 record of individual games won.
Sonora forced Oakdale’s first conference game loss of the season in an opening stretch that saw a 12-1 Wildcat lead before the Mustangs could close in with a 20-13 run.
Sonora continued to capitalize on serving errors in game two, and didn’t falter until long rallies swung Oakdale’s way in a fierce game three comeback that saw the night’s largest margin of victory.
Several lead changes set up a thrilling fourth game, but Sonora pulled away from a 10-13 deficit and 17-16 lead with big late points to take the match.
Oakdale saw 10 costly and uncharacteristic service errors, but were buoyed by work from outside hitter Justina Keith, who had 17 big service points, 15 digs and eight kills.
Lee dished out 28 assists with 24 digs while Kelsey Clark (eight points) and McKenzie Willett (two blocks) nabbed seven kills each. Libero Taylor Harper came through with eight points and 32 digs while Sarah Peterson dug up 24 kill attempts.
The match played out in front of a raucous group of Oakdale and Sonora fans alike, and drew out a heated chant-battle from opposing onlookers as the two teams played into the thrilling fourth-game conclusion.
Sonora fans celebrated a big point prematurely in the final game when a Wildcat kill attempt seemed to strike the court floor. But a diving pancake saved the point and a quick volley landed on the Sonora side of the net for a 19-22 Oakdale deficit that only widened.
Oakdale hosted Lathrop on Tuesday, though results were not available at press time. The Lady Mustangs travel to Sierra on Thursday, Oct. 14.