The Bell County Lady Cats celebrated senior night on Thursday and then battled tooth and nail with Knox Central for five highly competitive sets. The Lady Panthers outlasted Bell for a 24-26, 25-21, 25-14, 19-25, 15-12 win in the regular season finale for both teams.
“It was just a heart-breaker,” Lady Cat coach Amber Hinkle said. “I can’t complain with the way they played because they put their heart and soul into the game. Win or lose I was proud of them either way.”
In honor of senior night Bell County inserted Cheyenne Jackson and Madison Hensley into the starting line up along with fellow seniors Kaylynn Gibson, Courtney Cinnamon, Caitlyn Zachery and Kaitlyn Dean and they held up surprisingly well in the early going.
“I kind of threw it on them when they came into the gym. I didn’t tell them they’d be starting until we actually got ready to play the game,” Hinkle said. “I’ve been telling them the JV has been stepping up to get ready for next year and it’s time for them step up and show what they’ve got. I can’t complain because our seniors brought it tonight.
“They’re all great girls and I have them for two, three or four years. They came together and they’ve held this team like glue, which is what good leaders should do.”
Zachery won a pair of points and Hensley put together a string of five straight services points, including a kill from Dean, and the Lady Cats took a 10-4 lead in the first set.
Knox Central senior Tyra McNeil answered with a pair of kills, but three service points from Jackson with Dean providing another kill made it 17-8.
The Lady Panthers rallied with Kristin Smith serving up a pair of aces and two other serves the Lady Cats couldn’t return during a 6-0 run. A kill and a block from McNeill with Justice Lacefield serving brought Knox Central even at 21-all.
Dean returned the next serve with a bump high into the rafters. The ball never hit anything and was still in play when it came down just over the net and just inside the line to put the Lady Cats back on top. Zachery added one service point before McNeil won another point at the net.
Kelsey Engle delivered two serves that Bell County couldn’t return to put the Lady Panthers up 24-23. Sophomore Danielle Parks had entered the match and came up with a spike that went out of a Knox Central player to tie the score. Parks closed out the set with a pair of hard jump serves, the first was returned out and the second went for an ace as Bell took set one 26-24.
The second set went back and forth in the early going with a kill from Zachery tying things at 11. Knox led 17-14 when Lady Cat junior Katie Jarvis entered the match. She spiked the ball out off a Lady Panther to tie it up at 17 and Dean ripped a serve that Knox couldn’t return.
McNeil blocked a Jarvis spike to tie things at 18, but Jarvis came back soon after with a change of pace soft tap that fell in for a 20-18 Lady Cat lead. Lady Panther Sadie Harris had two aces during a 5-0 spurt that put Knox ahead 23-20. They took the second set after Lacefield came up with a kill and then a serve that Bell returned out.
In the third set the Lady Cats got two kills from Jackson and two aces from Cinnamon to go up 8-7. A Jarvis kill had Bell up 12-10 and it was 14-all when Madison Marsee came on to serve for the Lady Panthers. McNeil took over the match right there and delivered either a kill, a block or a spike that went out off a Bell player on eight points as Knox Central closed out the set on an 11-0 run.
“(McNeil) made a big difference for them. We didn’t really know how to go up with her and I told them to fall back and be ready for her to hit it,” Hinkle said. “She proved again tonight that go up and do that just about any time. Those are the mistakes that we’ve got to recover from and keep working on in practice.”
The Lady Panthers carried that momentum over to the fourth set and went up 4-0 behind three service points from Harris. It was 10-4 before Bell County got kills from Dean and Gibson around a service error. Dean reeled off seven straight service points with Jarvis providing two kills and an ace giving the Lady Cats a 13-11 lead.
Three service points from Jarvis, including kill from Grace Barnett put Bell up 19-14 and they went on to take the set 25-19 with Zachery delivering a kill on set point to even the match at 2-2.
Zachery opened the fifth set with a bump kill and Morgan Mills had three straight service points with Jarvis and Zachery winning points at the net to give the Lady Cats a 4-0 lead. Lacefield answered with three service points of her own to tie the score before Jarvis pushed a set into an empty spot on the court to put Bell back on top.
Another kill from Jarvis and a serve from Zachery that the Lady Panthers couldn’t return pushed the lead to 7-4. Jarvis later beat McNeil for a point at the net that made it 8-6. Knox won the next four points with a McNeil kill giving them a 9-8 lead.
Barnett’s kill brought the Lady Cats within 11-10 and Jackson came on to hit a serve that the Lady Panther returned out to tie things at 11. It was 12-12 when a little miscommunication by the Lady Cats let one fall in and Harris followed with a hard serve that Bell returned out to put Knox up 14-12. The Lady Panthers took the match when Jarvis couldn’t quite get to a pass at the net and mishit a ball that fell in on the Lady Cats’ side.
Knox Central (12-9) will play Lynn Camp on Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the first round of the 51st District Tournament at Whitley County. Bell County (12-14) is hosting the 52nd District Tournament and will play Harlan in their first round match on Monday at 7 p.m. Middlesboro plays Harlan County in the opening match at 5:30 p.m.