Aledo fell in the first set but came roaring back as the Ladycats defeated the El Paso High School Lady Tigers, 19-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-13 Thursday night in a Class 5A, area championship match at Seminole High School.
The Ladycats will advance to the regional quarterfinals and face No. 2 Canyon Randall.
The match is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12 at Vernon High School.
The Ladycats – facing an outstanding defensive team – dropped the first set and were down 6-0 in the second set. However, after a time out, the Ladycats regrouped to take the set by five points to square the match.
Aledo broke open a close third set by scoring nine of the final 13 points, and in the fourth set the Ladycats simply wore down the Lady Tigers to run away with the set to clinch the match.
“I called a time-out and we gathered ourselves (after trailing 6-0 in the second set),” Ladycats head coach Claire Gay said. “We needed to work through some things mentally, and I really don’t think early on that we were prepared for their speed.
“(El Paso) picked up a lot of balls, they hit well and passed well, and early in the match it was hard for us (hitters) to find the holes. But once we started blocking the ball it helped out.”
Daleigh Ellison led the Ladycats at the net with a match-high 17 kills, with Lilly Taylor adding 14. Setter Mattie Gantt registered a match-high 46 assists.
“We started to get everyone offensively involved, and that also helped us out,” Gay said. “Daleigh and Lilly were on this team last year during our playoff run, but really, the entire team stepped up. But we made an adjustment on defense and that was huge for us, and I feel that is the reason we won this match. The girls stepped up when they needed to.”
Defensively, libero Riley Picket recorded 29 digs, and at the net, Audrey Pearce and Alyssa Gribble each came away with a match-high five blocks, with Pearce adding nine kills. Hitter Alex Grooms also reached double figures in kills with 10, and led the team at the service line with three aces.
After dropping the opening set, the Ladycats found themselves in another hole in game two, trailing 6-0.
Slowly, Aledo worked its way back into the game, and after a kill from the right side by Ellison the Ladycats tied the set, 13-13. Two more kills by Ellison and a pair of kills from Grooms gave the Ladycats a 20-15 advantage, but El Paso went on a quick 5-1 run to cut Aledo’s lead to 21-20.
But with momentum back on the EPHS side, the Lady Tigers could not take advantage and committed consecutive return errors as Aledo’s lead grew to 23-20.
On the ensuing rally, a block by Pearce brought the set to game point, and on the next rally she combined with Gantt for a block that sealed the set and tied the match in games, 1-1.
In pivotal game three, El Paso jumped out to a 13-9 lead before the Ladycats score five unanswered points for a 14-13 advantage. EPHS came back to tie the set, 16-16, but the Ladycats killed the Lady Tigers’ momentum with a 6-0 run – thanks in part to a kill each by Ellison and Grooms and a pair of kills from Pearce – to take a 22-16 lead.
After an EPHS point, Pearce added a block and a kill, and a thunder spike kill by Taylor gave the Ladycats a 25-20 win and a 2-1 lead in games.
With momentum on its side, Aledo raced out to an 8-2 lead in game four and stretched its cushion to 13-4. Leading 17-8, the Ladycats followed with consecutive kills from Taylor and a kill by Ellison to increase the lead to 20-8.
Leading 23-13, consecutive kills by Ellison sealed game four and the match.
“This group is improving every week because each one of them pushes each other hard in practice,” Gay said. “This team has been a huge family this season, and they support one another. Each of the players show so much character and are such a big reason we have made it this far because they keep pushing each other in practice.
“Everybody is doing a good job of supporting one another and that’s a testament to this team and to its leaders.”