Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

SPORTS >>Lady Bears sweep Devils

Leader sportswriter

A long standing rivalry between The Lady Red Devils of Jacksonville and the Lady Bears of Sylvan Hills picked right back up where it left off on Tuesday, and resulted in the third-straight 6A-East Conference win for Hillside. The Lady Bears downed the Lady Devils in straight games, 29-27, 25-22 and 25-23.

The capacity crowd on hand at the Devils Den signified that this was no ordinary conference matchup. Both teams came into the contest with strategies that seemed very similar in appearance. For Jacksonville, it was shutting down top SH scorer Megan Gwatney, for the Lady Bears, it was containing senior hitter Vanessa Brown. Both strategies were successful in their singular pragmatic purpose, but the details of how to stop the other five players on each side were not ironed out quite as well.

Junior Courtney Luth became the Lady Bears’ biggest threat at the front, while Lady Devils junior Paula Burr gave Sylvan Hills fits both at the net and the service line.

“Because of the games with Jacksonville over the years, if someone would have said we could come in here and win in three games, I would have said ‘no way,’” Sylvan Hills coach Harold Treadway said. “I know how tough we always play each other.

Jacksonville has a good team; I think we were able to frustrate them a little defensively. Our passing game was as good as it’s been all year, and I think that had a little bit to do with it too.”

The overall match score of 3-0 is perhaps the most misleading statistic of the entire season. The Lady Red Devils played Sylvan Hills to within three points in every game, even after what appeared to be a hopeless start to game three. Sylvan Hills rushed out to an 11-3 lead in the last frame, after half-hearted Jacksonville returns put them in a hole. Coach Melissa Reeves took a timeout to motivate the troops, and the comeback would be on once again.

Jacksonville would proceed to outscore Sylvan Hills 12-4 over the next 16 points to tie the game at 15-15. A pair of kills by Luth put the Lady Bears back out in front, but out errors kept the Lady Devils in the game.

A hit out of bounds on a kill attempt by Luth made it 24-23, and gave serve to Jacksonville. The amazing comeback would end there, however, as sophomore Baylee Herlacher hit the ensuing serve out, handing the win to Sylvan Hills.

Luth earned her biggest points for Sylvan Hills in game two. The southpaw’s cross-court kills found a rare open spot in the Jacksonville defense, and allowed the Lady Bears to rally from a 16-13 deficit to tie the game at 20-20. Sylvan Hills would finally take the lead moments later at 23-22, and senior Joanna Persson would put the game away for the Lady Bears with two straight kills.

“That’s a natural hit for her,” Treadway said of Luth’s tricky kills. “It’s not something that we spend a whole lot of time on, but it’s something she can do when some of our other strategies aren’t working. I thought she played a good game. I also thought Jodi Perrson played a smart game, and Kaci Willis was a force at the net for us tonight.”

As for All-Conference standout Gwatney, Treadway said she would have been the first to admit that Tuesday was not a career day for her.

“She spoke up during one of the timeouts,” Treadway said. “She apologized and told everyone she was having a terrible game. It wasn’t a pretty game for her, knowing what she is capable of doing.”

Extra pressure on Gwatney by the front row Jacksonville team of Jessica Lanier and Tyra Terry was a big cause of the SH senior’s frustrations early on. The Lady Bears rushed out to a 10-5 lead in game one, but they would need four extra points to finally come away with the win.

It didn’t take long for the old rivalry to kick in to full gear in the opening game, when a Raven Pickett serve for Jacksonville was disputed by Treadway. Treadway initially sent a player to the net judge to ask of a possible line infraction, but when that went unanswered, Treadway approached the line judge himself. Jacksonville assistant coach Tanya Ganey soon joined the conversation to state the opposing side, and the Lady Devils kept the point.

The lead got as big as 19-11 for Sylvan Hills, but Burr’s service game would spark a rally of eight straight points for Jacksonville, including four no-returns and an ace.

Terry and Lanier played solidly at the front for the Lady Red Devils, but their performances were equaled on the other side of the net by the SH duo of Persson and Brittany Hutchins.

Luth led the Lady Bears with 10 kills on five errors. Gwatney added six kills on six errors, and Joanna Persson added four kills and an ace. For Jacksonville, Lanier led all hitters with eight kills and two blocks on four errors. Brown added four kills, one block and one tip on three errors. Terry added four kills on one error, and Burr had two kills, a block and three aces.

The Lady Bears are now 8-3 overall and 3-1 in the 6A-East Conference. Jacksonville fell to?? . Sylvan Hills will host Jonesboro on Tuesday, while Jacksonville hosts West Memphis.