Esko escapes HibbingThe top-seeded Eskomos took the win in a nail-biting 25-23, 25-21, 26-28, 23-25, 15-13 Section 7AA semifinal volleyball win Wednesday night at Grand Rapids High School. Saturday the Eskomos will play Mora in the section championship at 7 p.m. at Grand Rapids (not Duluth Denfeld, as was stated yesterday).
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
GRAND RAPIDS — Every so often, Desiree DeLeon puts Amanda Bisel in her starting lineup. Although sparingly seeing the floor, the Esko right side hitter contributes.
But never like Wednesday.
In the heat of tied fifth set with their season on-the-ropes, the senior’s left-handed attack sent the ball gliding across the tape of net from the left side until it eventually landed on the right sideline in front of Hibbing.
Soon-after the ball it the floor, Bisel exploded in celebration with her teammates, as the top-seeded Eskomos took a 14-13 lead and eventually escaped the second-ranked Bluejackets scoring the final seven points in a nail-biting 25-23, 25-21, 26-28, 23-25, 15-13 Section 7AA semifinal volleyball win Wednesday night at Grand Rapids High School.
The win propelled the Eskomos (25-4) Saturday’s Section 7AA championship where they will look to defend their title from a year ago, when they clash with Mora (24-6), 3-1 winners over top-seeded Hermantown. Saturday’s match for all the marbles is set for 7 p.m. at Grand Rapids High School.
Wednesday, Bisel, a role-playing right side hitter, said she was looking to attack Hibbing when she flicked Steph Miller’s set with her left-handed swing, but as the ball rolled across the top of the net, she became a little weary.
“Watching it go and I almost died,” said Bisel, the team’s lone lefty, about the match’s most-tense play afterward. “Like, honesty, if it wouldn’t have gone over, I probably would have fallen on the ground right then.”
Luckily for Bisel and the Eskomos, the ball clipped the sideline, as the point highlighted an improbable Esko run, where trailing 13-8; they scored the final seven points and snuck off with the win.
“I thought it was over,” added Esko senior outside hitter Stephanie Bandelin. “I was like “I don’t want this to be over. It was scary.”
Trailing late, DeLeon took a timeout.
“She was kind of flipping out,” said Bandelin. “But it was then we realized that we had to kick it in the butt and just go.”
“They decided at that point that they didn’t want to lose,” added DeLeon. “And they played hard. They played aggressive and not afraid to lose. That’s what we want.”
Bandelin started the comeback, as the 6-foot heavy-hitter recorded back-to-back-to-back kills to get the momentum back for the Eskomos. Following a pair of Hibbing timeouts, the Bluejackets hit a ball long, while Bandelin added another kill; Bisel’s ball hit the floor and Hibbing set was into the antenna before the Eskomos’ erupted.
“We knew we had to get the momentum back,” said Miller, a senior setter. “But at the end, we got that momentum and drove it home.
“Once that ball it the floor, it was the best feeling in the world.”
Hibbing rallied earlier in the match, taking sets three and four after trailing by two, just to send it to a deciding fifth set. But just two points from victory, longtime Bluejackets coach Gail Nucech knew things weren’t done.
“We were close, but you don’t have it until the game is done at the 15th point,” said Nucech afterward, the state’s all-time leader in victories. “We didn’t roll over; it could have been anyone’s game. But Esko came through.”
Nucech noted that the Eskomos gave her Bluejackets a number a points on service mistakes, so taking late timeouts was in hope of ending that always-deadly momentum in the game she’s coached so long.
“They didn’t have a very good serving night the first couple games,” Nucech continued about Esko. “They were trying to give it to us, but I guess we just weren’t good enough to take it.”
Hibbing was led by star middle hitter Ebony Gray, who had 16 kills, 12 digs, eight blocks and six ace serves, while senior setter Courtney Wirtanen had 31 set assists, 15 digs and six ace serves in the season-ending loss, giving Esko all they could handle.
“They’re definitely one of the best teams we’ve had to play this year,” Miller said of Hibbing. “Once we got those first two games under our belt, I think we backed down a bit, but there was no way they were giving us that fifth on.”
Miller led Esko with 52 set assists, 11 digs and three aces, while Bandelin added in 17 kills and four blocks. Junior hitter Amanda Belden also had 17 digs, 16 kills and two aces, while junior Kallyn Knutson had 16 digs.
“We played the first two games very well, but then struggled,” said DeLeon. “It was kind of like a whirlwind, but in the end, we closed it out.”
Thanks to Bisel.