CLATSKANIE — Clatskanie’s improbable postseason run continued Tuesday, as they knocked off Yamhill-Carlton in four sets to advance to the OSAA semifinals. The Tigers, who hadn’t experienced a winning season in over a decade, now find themselves within two matches of their first ever State championship.
The Tigers, coming off a three-win Saturday in their league tournament, started off slow in the first set as Yamhill-Carlton quickly jumped out to an 18-12 lead. However, the small number of hometown students and fans allowed into the gymnasium did their best to will a Clatskanie comeback into existence, and the Tigers obliged by beginning to chip away.
A quick 9-3 run brought the score level at 21-all. Yamhill-Carlton was able to get all the way to set point, but as Clatskanie had done many times this year, they slammed the door on the visitors’ hopes. Clatskanie was able to regain control behind the serve of Olivia Sprague and won the first set 26-24.
In the second set, YC sucked the life out of the Clatskanie crowd, jumping out to an early 9-1 lead. That early lead quickly ballooned all the way to 20-4, forcing a Clatskanie timeout. After that strategy session the Tigers picked it up a bit, but still fell 25-9, as the match evened up at one match each.
But if it looked like the visitors had grabbed all the momentum, Clatskanie coach Amanda Baker was unconcerned. Instead, she told her players to “flush that set, and focus on what we’ve got ahead.”
Baker spoke and the Tigers listened.
Clatskanie cleaned up their errors in the third set and went toe-to-toe with the Pac-West League runners-up until they’d filled the gym back up with energy from their sparse but faithful fans. As each side exchanged blows down the stretch, it was Clatskanie who once again fended off set points, and rallied back for a 28-26 win.
An unassuming hero in the third set was Maya Helman, who was serving nails from behind the stripe that keyed the Tigers’ comeback.
It’s been a common theme this season for the Tigers to rally late and claim improbable set victories. Baker attributes her team’s knack for nailing down those comebacks to “a ton of unbelievable grit.”
Leading two sets to one, Clatskanie found themselves 25 points away from guaranteeing their first final four trip since 2003. That season the Tigers wound up in fifth place.
The two sides battled like their championship hopes were on the line for the first 42 points, as the score was knotted at 21 late in the fourth set. Once again, though, tough serves were the difference maker as Clatskanie used error free service and clean defense to roll to a 25-22 set win that claimed the match for the hometown Tigers.
Following the historic win, Baker remarked that the difference between the two sides was simple. “Olivia. We had Olivia Sprague and they didn’t.”
This season the Tigers tout a side that could inspire players of all stripes around the area to come out and try a sport that they might not typically play. Clatskanie’s entire rotation consists of basketball players who either hadn’t played volleyball since they could still remember their middle school locker combination. However, no matter the sport, the senior trio of Alexis Smith, Olivia Sprague and Shelby Blodgett continues to wreak havoc on all of Oregon’s 3A classification.
The quarterfinal win set Clatskanie up to face the winner of the Cascade Christian versus Harrisburg match that’s scheduled for Wednesday. Clatskanie will to will take on the winner, Saturday, at Creswell High School at 2 p.m.
The Tigers are now guaranteed to finish no lower than fourth in the state, which will be their best finish since 1985. Only immediate family members will be allowed to attend, due to COVID-19 precautions, but the game will be available via NFHS streaming services.