High School Sports

Finesse game lifts Indians past Raiders

With a 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 25-18) victory at Keenan on Tuesday, Gilbert advanced to the Class 2A volleyball semifinals.

Gilbert (23-1) earned its second semifinal bid in as many years while handing Keenan its first home loss since 2007.

The two teams, champions in their respective regions, fought tooth and nail from the start.

Keenan had built a four-point lead early but a few untimely errors helped the Indians pull even at 8 points. The Raiders never led by more than two after that and, after tying at 18, fell behind for good. With Victoria Burkett serving, Gilbert pushed ahead to a 25-20 win.

Keenan fought to avoid falling into a two-game hole, starting off the second game with aggressive play. After tying at 3, the Raiders began to pull away. Keenan went on a seven-point run, and eventually established a 13-5 lead.

The Indians responded with a seven-point tear of their own.

Whitney Strother's play at the net helped Gilbert erase its deficit. Three times the senior outside hitter approached the net as if going for a monster kill, then let up and instead gave the ball a butterfly kiss and watched it fall at the feet of the unsuspecting Raiders.

"I knew they had some powerful hitters up front and I figured I just had to play smarter," said Strother, who led the Indians with 17 kills and three digs. "When I approached the net I was looking for the soft spots, the corners; my teammates would tell me where to go."

Coach Jackie Shealy said Strother's ability to adjust mid-air was an invaluable asset against the Raiders.

"They are probably the hardest hitting team that we've faced. They have got some girls that just dominate across the front," Shealy said.

But the Raiders did not have quite enough to answer the Indians' finesse game.

"We worked all week on playing the short ball, but we still weren't ready for it," Keenan coach Gwen Wilcher said. "It was the short balls that beat us tonight, it wasn't the power game."

Midway through the final game, Gilbert went on a six-point run to take the lead and the Raiders never recovered.

Q'Jannis Wilson, Brandolyn Mack and Rebekah Davis were ferocious up front, but Keenan could not get a rally going.

"They were up the whole way. They got down but they didn't stop playing," Wilcher said. "They didn't come out on top, but they never stopped playing."

Gilbert 3, Keenan 0

25-20, 25-20, 25-18

Leaders: G Whitney Strother 17 kills, 3 digs; Sarah Eargle 8 kills, 9 digs; Courtney Frye 3 aces, 23 assists.