With a spot in the regional tournament hanging in the balance, Bell held off host Knox Central in the opening round of the 48th District Tournament on Monday 25-19, 23-25, 25-19.
Bell advances to the district championship game today against rival Middlesboro. Both teams will head to Cumberland next week for the regional tourney.
”We talked on the bus on the way down here, it was either go home tonight or win and guarantee ourselves two more weeks of volleyball,“ said Bell County coach Amy Hunt. ”They all looked at me and said, ‘We're not ready to stop'“
Knox Central led early in the first game and played well in the second, but never got started in the third game until it was all but over.
”I guess you could call it nerves... That would be a good way to put it,“ said Lady Panther coach Barbara Gregory. ”We just weren't following our game plan of bump, set and spiking and when we were setting it up, we were setting it up to the other team and that was killing us. They were drilling it right back into our faces.“
Bell looked tight early, committing five errors in the game's first seven points to help the Lady Panthers to a quick lead. Hunt spent a fiery timeout getting the Lady Cats focused and the results were immediate.
Bell got a kill from Luwanna Phipps and benefited from a number of Knox Central errors and some strong serves by Megan Mills.
Mills started in the place of setter Ashley Beeler, who sat out of the first two games for disciplinary reasons.
”I had an completely different lineup in the first two games,“ said Hunt. ”It's nice to have some options on my bench.
”The win in the first game was great, because that momentum carries over.“
Angela Turner added a kill to trim the lead to two and Bell tied the game with a Jamie Bailey kill and a Phipps ace.
Knox Central reclaimed a three-point lead with an ace from junior standout Leeann Kirschner, but four straight errors put Bell in the drivers' seat once again.
Kirschner recorded an impressive kill from the back row to trim Bell's lead to 20-19, but Kristen Money claimed the serve on a Central error and fired off two straight pointers, including notching a kill when her dig fell into an empty spot in the Lady Panther defense.
Phipps picked up a kill to bring about match point and Turner ended the game with a kill as Kirschner's desperation dig sailed out of bounds.
The second game as a back-and-forth affair throughout with Phipps and Kirschner both turning in strong performances at the net.
Knox Central broke a 20-20 tie with a Kirschner kill and Tiffany Jones added an ace, drawing a Bell County time out.
The lead grew to 23-20 with a Kirschner kill and her eighth kill of the game brought about game point. The Lady Panthers evened the match at one game apiece when Phipps's spike went into the net.
Bailey opened the decisive third game with an ace and followed with seven straight points as nearly every Lady Cat got in on the scoring act. Money, Beeler, Mills, Phipps and Turner each recorded a kill.
Kirschner picked up a kill as she tried to keep the Lady Panthers in the match, but a Turner kill, a Lacey Mason ace an a pair of Central errors added up to a 12-4 lead, drawing a time out from Gregory.
”The big girl (Kirschner) had a hot game, but there was nobody there to back her up,“ said Gregory. ”We get two or three working together, but it takes them all.“
Phipps picked up a kill, but Knox Central began to mount a comeback as Kirschner rotated to the net and quickly picked up a kill.
But in a three-point series, Bailey short-circuited any Knox Central ideas of a rally.
With Kirschner swinging away at the net, Bailey picked up a kill on a well-timed block, followed with a kill on a spike over the Central standout and picked up a third straight point with another block on a Kirschner spike.
”That was big,“ said Hunt. ”Jamie Bailey is a captain on this team, a senior and she knows what it means to advance. She and Luwanna Phipps did a great job on the net.“
The flurry gave Lady Cats a 20-9 lead, which rode to victory entirely on Knox Central errors.
”We had three phenomenal games last week,“ said Hunt. ”That was coming alive in that third game.
Bell and Middlesboro will play a rubber game for the district title today at 6 p.m. Middlesboro emerged victorious in the first meeting between the cross-county rivals, but Bell evened the series with a victory last week.
”With Middlesboro, it's always three games. It's going to come out a different winner every time and it's going to go three games,“ said Hunt. ”Playing three games tonight was probably a good warm-up to get ready for (Tuesday) night.“