Blythewood gained the early advantage on Rock Hill in Region 4-4A volleyball on Tuesday, scoring a 3-1 win at home over the Class 4A fourth-ranked Bearcats.
The Bengals, 15-4 overall and ranked No. 6, prevailed 26-24 in the first game of the best-of-five set, fell 25-18 in the second game before rebounding to win 25-22 and 25-23 in the third and fourth games.
“It was the kind of match you expect to see when two Top 10 teams play,” said second-year Bengals coach Mary Hall, whose team shared the region title with Rock Hill last season and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs before losing a five-game heartbreaker to mighty Dorman to finish with a 25-5 record.
In such a hotly contested match pitting two evenly matched teams, the difference usually comes down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes. On this night, the Bearcats made more.
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“I thought both teams played well but I think we’re both still striving for a level of consistency that takes a team to another level," said Hall. "My team has a lot of talent across the board, but we’re not quite where I want to be in terms of consistency. When we put it all together it will be an amazing thing. No one has seen what Blythewood really has yet.”
Blythewood’s worst showing was in the second game when bad passing and too many unforced errors kept the attack from functioning smoothly. The Bengals had just nine kills in the second game. Things were markedly better in the third and fourth games when the defense and passing improved enough to allow senior setter Caleen Hawkins to do her thing.
Hawkins, who finished with 40 assists in the match, had 11 assists in the third game and 12 in the fourth.
“We gave that (second) game away on our own mistakes,” said Hall. “Once we got settled down and got the ball to Caleen things started to fall back into place. She’s a great setter, very consistent and strong. She’s our leader and she makes us go.”
Rock Hill had plenty of scoring punch from outside hitter Christina Vereb and middle Karis Watson. Vereb closed with a match high 20 kills and Watson added 18. But the Bearcats' passing and setting games were hot and cold all night.
Rock Hill, for instance, had a 23-21 lead in the first game and the serve, but after a kill by Blythewood’s Courtney Williams, the Bearcats were guilty of two costly unforced errors while at game point. In the third game, RH, down 8-1 early, rallied within 23-21 when a set violation gave the Bengals a much-needed boost to close it out.
Blythewood had the more balanced attack with Hawkins dealing freely to any number of hitters up front – left side, right side, middle. Williams and senior Andrea Keesee shared the team lead with 13 kills apiece, senior Murphye Williams chipped in 11 kills and Victoria Harley and freshman middle Meredith Jones finished with six kills each.
Libero Courtney Person made the key defensive play late in the fourth game. Rock Hill pulled within 23-22 and set Vereb on the left side for a blast that Person somehow kept in play by sticking out her arm at an awkward angle to deflect the ball high in the air. Blythewood was able to get the ball back over the net, and Vereb, who obviously thought she had scored a winner, proceeded to whistle her next shot wide and out of bounds.
Courtney Williams clinched it for the engals with a right side kill off a back set by Hawkins.