Big Sky Tournament Central
SACRAMENTO -- Sophomore Sarah Davis had a career-high 16 kills, and junior middle blocker Brie Gathright added nine kills, four blocks and a .429 hitting percentage to help Sacramento State to a 3-1 win (26-24, 25-15, 18-25, 25-18) over Portland State in the Big Sky Conference Tournament semifinals at the Nest.
The victory allows Sacramento State to move into the Big Sky championship match tomorrow night at 8 p.m. when it will face No. 2 seed North Dakota. The highest seeded team has won all six tournament games thus far, including each of the four quarterfinal matchups and both of today's semifinal games. North Dakota knocked off No. 3 seed Idaho in today's first semifinal by a 3-1 score.
The Hornets will be making their first championship game appearance since the 2007 team won the Big Sky Tournament title. Sacramento State had lost in the semifinals each of the last two years. The Hornets have now qualified for the championship match 12 times since joining the Big Sky in 1996. Sacramento State is 9-2 in Big Sky championship matches, including victories in 1997-98, 2000, and 2002-07. The winner of the Big Sky title will receive the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, a place the Hornets haven't been since the 2007 squad reached the second round of the Big Dance.
Sacramento State, which won the Big Sky's regular season title, earned the right to host this year's postseason event after posting a 15-1 conference record. The Hornets defeated Portland State in all three meetings between the two teams this year, and Sacramento State has now won a massive 26 consecutive home games against Big Sky teams.
Portland State dropped to 21-8, but the Vikings' season may not be over. PSU has a chance of qualifying for the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC) which will be a 32-team postseason tournament that begins on Nov. 28. The NIVC, which will offer bids to teams that do not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, was originally played from 1989-95, and is making its return this season.
The Hornets will now turn their attention to a North Dakota team they played just once this season. In that matchup at the Nest on Oct. 5, the Hornets won in five sets by a 25-20, 24-26, 25-15, 22-25, 15-12 score. Each of the last two meetings between the two teams have been decided in five sets, including a 15-13 UND win in the fifth in Grand Forks a season ago. The Fighting Hawks will enter the tournament with a 29-7 overall record and have won four straight. The Hornets have won seven straight entering tomorrow night's clash.
The Hornets, as they have done so often this year, made big runs near the end of both the first and fourth sets tonight. The biggest moment of tonight's game came in the first set when the Hornets erased a 24-20 deficit by saving four straight set points and going on a 6-0 run to close the frame. During the spurt, Lana Brown had two kills, and combined with Shannon Boyle for a pair of blocks. A Mikaela Nocetti kill put things away and gave Sacramento State the 26-24 win.
With the Hornets leading just 17-16 in the fourth, Sacramento State was able to close the frame on an 8-2 run to win the match. Brie Gathright and Kennedy Kurtz combined on a pair of blocks late, including at match point to send the Hornets to the championship game.
Sacramento State limited Portland State to just a .135 hitting percentage (44-21-170) while tallying 92 digs and 10.0 team blocks. Five different Hornets posted double figures in digs, and Sacramento State also had 16 more kills (60-44) than Portland State.
"Tonight was very challenging because Portland State served tough and we weren't passing well at times," Sacramento State head coach Ruben Volta said. "But we hung in there, and I think what really got us going was our defense. We started digging everything, Brigitte (Murdock) played unbelievable in the back, Shannon (Boyle) had a lot of digs again tonight and Sarah (Davis) was terminating on the right side.
"Obviously, we are looking forward to playing in tomorrow's final, and we've had some very close matches with North Dakota over the last couple years. The gym was loud and electric tonight, the fans were incredible, and we hope they bring that same enthusiasm tomorrow night."
Davis' 16 kills surpassed her previous career high of 11, as the rightside hitter had just two errors in 38 swings while hitting .368 with four digs and a pair of blocks. In the fourth set alone, Davis had seven kills and a .538 hitting percentage. Of the five Hornets with double figures in digs, three posted double-doubles including Boyle (12 kills, 20 digs, season-high tying four blocks), Nocetti (11 kills, 13 digs) and Kurtz (49 assists, 14 digs, two blocks).
Murdock was seemingly everywhere on the floor, reading Portland State's offense well all evening as the fourth-year senior had a team-high 23 digs. Defensive specialist Skyler Takeda had 13 digs and has now combined for 29 digs in two Big Sky Tournament games. Brown finished with nine kills and six blocks, none bigger than when she keyed the Hornets' 6-0 run to close the first set with two stuffs and two kills.
Portland State had just one player in double-figure kills, and that was Toni McDougald who had 13 kills and 11 digs but finished with just a .161 hitting percentage. Libero Tasha Bojanic had a pair of aces and match-high 27 digs while setter Erin Clark had 37 assists, three aces and 13 digs.
For fans who cannot attend tomorrow night's match, there will be three ways to watch, including watchbigsky.com and Pluto.tv which is a free online television service that is available on Roku, Amazon Fire, laptops, iOS and Androids. The match will air on Pluto TV channel 231. In addition, the championship match will be televised to a national audience via Eleven Sports which can be found on DirecTV channel 623, AT&T U-verse channel 1665, and Verizon FiOS channel 597.