LOG MOUNTAIN — Celebrating senior night in style, the Bell County Lady Cats put together one of their most complete matches of the year in defeating Middlesboro 25-13, 25-16 Tuesday.
Middle blocker Sydney Gray, Bell’s only senior, was instrumental in the win. She and freshman Daniel Parks tied for the most service points in the match with 12 apiece; Gray accounted for six points at the net, including a clean kill to end the first set; and closed out the match with three straight service points.
“They came out and they really wanted it for Sydney on her senior night,” said Lady Cat coach Amber Hinkle. “I told them to put it all out for Sydney and let’s see what can happen. They proved to me that they can play when they want to play. That’s a key factor, especially with tournament time around the corner.”
Middlesboro was led by senior Carissa Padgett with five kills and two blocks while freshman Anajae Stephney added four kills and block. The Lady Jackets were undone by 14 unforced errors on the night.
“Our girls made a lot of small mental errors. They have the physical ability, they have the volleyball skill, they just made some mental mistakes and that cost us the game,” MHS coach Mike Spradlin said. “And the Lady Cats just jumped right out and took advantage of those.”
Lady Jacket senior Lauren Schneider won an early point with a bump kill to tie the first set, but Parks had two service points and Gray added four more as Bell County built a 9-2 lead.
Padgett spiked one ball out off a Lady Cat blocker, later came up with a big block for a point and then reeled off three straight service points, including two aces as Middlesboro pulled within 10-7.
Kaylynn Gibson won a point at the net to put Bell up 14-9 and Katie Jarvis delivered six straight service points, including two aces to put the Lady Cats firmly in control at 20-9. Two kills from Stephney and one from Padgett kept Middlesboro hanging around, but Parks came on to serve out the final three points of the set.
Gray clinched it by sending a spike just past Padgett’s block attempt and onto the court as Bell County took the first set 25-13.
Set number two saw Gibson score the first point with a bump for a kill and another Gray spike went out off a Middlesboro player for a 3-1 lead. Parks came on to serve and the Lady Jackets struggled to return her jump serve. She hit four that weren’t returned, Kaitlyn Dean had a kill and a little miscommunication between Lady Jacket players accounted for another point as the lead ballooned to 9-1.
Two kills from Padgett with Charlesa Witherspoon serving got MHS within 9-4, but Gray ended their mini run with a kill. She then strung together five service points, with Jarvis accounting for two points with one kill and one hit that went out off a Lady Jacket as Bell’s lead grew to 15-4.
“Our serving and our blocking— I don’t know if they ate something different today or what but they got up. We’ve worked all season long on double-blocks and to finally see all of it coming together is really great,” Hinkle said.
Middlesboro got one service point from Savanna Miracle, two from Candice Bruce and three from Adreana Lefevers during a 9-2 run to close the gap to17-13.
The teams traded points until Gray came on to serve with Bell leading 22-16. She ripped two serves that the Lady Jackets couldn’t return and then match point was decided as Middlesboro hit the ball into the net.
“We got beat by a better team. They beat us today because they were a better team today. That’s all there is to it,” said Spradlin.
Tuesday’s match was the final home appearance for Gray, the daughter of Lonnie and Meghan Gray, and Hinkle said the four-year varsity player has mean a lot to the team.
“She’s one of those versatile players that can play any position on the court. We really connected her freshman year, as tall as she is, on middle blocking. I would coach her pretty much like a cheerleader, counting when to time the ball,” Hinkle said of Gray. “The past two years she’s gone and played in the 13th Region All-Star game and she’s looking forward to going back. Tonight she proved that she deserves to be there.”
Both teams return to action Thursday with Bell County (6-16, 4-1 district) playing at Harlan County with a chance to tie for first place in the 52nd District and Middlesboro (0-18, 0-6) visiting Knox Central.