Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

SPORTS >>Lady Bears rally, beat Red Devils

Leader sportswriter

The Sylvan Hills Lady Bears kept themselves mathematically alive in the hunt for part of the 6A-East Conference championship with a 3-1 win over Jacksonville Thursday night at the SHHS gymnasium. The Lady Devils went lights out in the first game to take a rather easy 25-17 win, but the final three frames would be all Hillside, 25-13, 25-16 and 25-18.

The win improved Sylvan Hills’ record to 13-2 overall and 7-2 in the 6A East, and left it with sole ownership of second place in the league standings behind undefeated Marion.

The outcome of the Jonesboro/Marion matchup the same night would determine whether or not the SH ladies still had a shot at the top seed. Sylvan Hills coach Harold Treadway says the win was a product of a better mindset heading into the second game.

“I was a nervous wreck,” Treadway said. “Not because I was worried about our team’s capabilities, but just because there seems to be more distractions at a home match than when we play away. They have friends in the stands, and a lot of parents; people from other sports there, plus it was homecoming week. We played tight in the first game, but they went out and had fun those last three games. We told them to relax so they could execute better, and they responded.”

Treadway also said the sweep of Jacksonville for the season was a big accomplishment.

“Jacksonville has a very, very good team,” Treadway said. “Year in and year out, you can throw both of our records out the window when we play. You never know how its going to be when you play them; they can come at you stronger than Jonesboro, or they come at you like the worst team in the league.”

Numerous offensive and defensive errors from Jacksonville in the second game were a stark contrast the energy and solid execution of game one, and the struggle would also carry into the third frame. Sylvan Hills’ passing game took over in game two, and seemed to get stronger as the match went on.

Junior Courtney Luth proved to be the difference in the first meeting between the two teams last month, and the rematch would be no different. Luth finished with an impressive 14 kills and six errors on 26 attempts. Senior Megan Gwatney saw limited time at the net in the first few games. Gwatney stayed back row left for most of game two and three, but moved up in the rotation in game four. The senior’s All-Conference skills at the front were far more than the Lady Devils, who were starting to show some fatigue in the previous game, could muster.

Gwatney’s first point in game four came on a tip to give Sylvan Hills a 4-2 lead, and she would proceed to generate seven more points in the frame with four kills, two tips and a block. Luth did not lay back in the fourth game herself, with three of her total kills and an assisted block with NO 24.

In fact, every SH starters stats went up after the first game. Kaci Willis not only out blocked all Lady Devils players after game one, but also generated five kills from the middle of the net in games two through four. Senior Brittany Hutchins did not make a lot of noise at the net for the Lady Bears, but her solid passing from the back would prove to be the perfect set up for Luth’s dominance up front.

Lady Red Devils senior Brittany Harrison would lead the way on Jacksonville’s side, with eight kills and four blocks, along with an ace and two assists on four errors. Junior Tyra Terry added nine kills and an ace on five errors for the Lady Devils.

Jacksonville took the lead at 9-8 in game one with a no-return serve by Harrison, and would build a steady lead over the last half of the game. A kill by Gwatney briefly tied the score at 14 all, but an ace by Paula Burr moments later gave the Lady Devils a 17-15 lead. Harrison stayed hot at the net in the closing stages with another kill and an assist to Vanessa Brown that put Jacksonville up 21-16.

Tyra Terry put the Lady Red Devils at game point with a kill, and Jessica Lanier closed the deal with a kill straight over the net off a shot by Gwatney.

Luth had three kills in the first game, including the first point of the match, but her kill early in the second match had much more authority than her previous trio. It would be the start of a seven-point performance for the junior, who began to disrupt Jacksonville’s defense by delivering her hits with an odd timing. Waiting until the very last moment to hit after a fake swing by Luth sent Jacksonville players in motion, leaving a wide gap right down the middle of the court for the point.

Two of Luth’s points in the second game were off of trick passes and five were from kills, including one that almost defied gravity, as she switched hitting hands in mid air after pumping with her right hand before moving her shoulders to deliver the kill her left hand to put the Lady Bears up 12-7. Willis’ light spikes in the middle were a nice offsetting compliment to Luth’s heavy-handed strikes, with four kills and an unassisted block in the second game.

Gwatney’s move to the back row made the net perhaps a little less lethal for Sylvan Hills, but the dividend picked up by having the strong-communicating senior making plays from the back seemed to offset any lost momentum at the front.

Gwatney, along with Hutchins and Joanna Persson, took away the lanes that Harrison and company enjoyed in the opening round.

Only height would work for Jacksonville at that point, and that in itself would be limited. Tyra Terry began to generate points for the Lady Red Devils in the second half of game three from the left side, which helped save them from a disparaging 15-5 deficit at one point to a more respectable 24-16 lead before Sylvan Hills ended the game to take a 2-1 lead in the match.

The intensity picked up for Jacksonville in game four, but its errors would not decrease as a result. The Lady Red Devils looked much better defensively in the final round, but lack off overall offense persisted. Luth and Willis’ assault slowed somewhat in the fourth game, but the addition of Gwatney to the net more than compensated.

The Lady Red Devils are now 14-9 overall and 3-5 in the 6A-East Conference. The Lady Devils will close out the regular season Tuesday with a home match against Mountain Home, while Sylvan Hills will play at Marion.