WALLA WALLA - A frustrating fall season for the Whitman College volleyball team hit another bump in the road with a 3-2 Northwest Conference loss to Whitworth University Wednesday night in Sherwood Center.
Whitworth, which rallied after losing the first two sets and trailing 9-5 in the fifth set, took a big step toward nailing down an NWC title, improving to 13-2 in conference and 18-6 overall.
The Pirates can clinch their crown with a victory Friday night in Spokane when they host Lewis & Clark in their regular season finale.
Wednesday's loss - Whitman's sixth five-set stumble this season - dropped the Missionaries to 2-13 in the NWC and 3-18 overall.
Whitman's Jillian Davis collected three of her match-high 19 kills early in the fifth set as the two sides battled to a 5-5 stalemate.
Following two Whitworth attack errors, Missionary Olivia Nielson and first-year teammate Megan Bafus combined for a block at the net for an 8-5 Missionary lead. A Bafus kill on the next point put Whitman in charge at 9-5.
The Pirates responded with a match-changing 6-0 run, getting two kills from Kaimi Rocha en route to building an 11-9 advantage.
The visitors stretched their lead to 13-10, but kills by Bafus and Courtney Brewer trimmed Whitman's deficit to a single point. After Whitworth reached match point on a Rocha kill, Brewer scored inside for the Missionaries to reduce the Pirate lead to 14-13. A service error then gave Whitworth the set and match.
Amanda Brumbach had 15 kills and 17 digs to pace the winners. Rocha added 11 kills and 18 digs while her sister, Ka'ipo Rocha, chipped in with 10 kills. Bree Riddle, the fourt senior at the core of the Pirate contingent, handed out 45 assists.
Jordon Hoffnagle and Whitney Santos picked up 33 digs between them to help Whitworth's back-row defense amass a total of 87 digs.
Whitman's Davis, continuing her resurgence from injury earlier in the fall, hit .357 and returned 13 digs while serving two aces. Bafus finished with 11 kills and Brewer had eight.
Taylor Aschenbrenner combined 19 assists with nine digs while first-year libero Annie Sing found 16 digs.
The Missionaries led 12-11 in the fourth set before Whitworth scored eight of the next 11 points to lead 19-15. Sparked by a Davis service ace and Bafus kill, Whitman surged back on top 20-19, but the Pirates reeled off the next six points to take the set and square the match at 2-2.
Whitman closes out its 2011 season Saturday at 5 p.m. when it hosts Lewis & Clark.