By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
With a match-up against Madison Central in the championship game just a win away, Madison Southern coach Jeremy Grant was worried his players might be looking past their first-round opponent in the 44th District Tournament.
And maybe they were, at least a little bit.
“I told the girls that we can’t look ahead to Central, you’ve got to go take care of business,” Grant said. “We weren’t ready for this game, but we found a way to win.”
Southern did advance to the championship game to face Central, but it wasn’t easy.
The Lady Eagles dropped a set before rebounding to pick up a 3-1 (25-14, 25-20, 25-27, 25-17) victory over the Lady Pirates Monday at Berea Community School. Southern will take on Central at 6 p.m. today at Berea Community. Both teams will advance to next week’s 11th Region Tournament, which is being held at Madison Southern.
“They were scrappy,” Grant said of Berea. “The first time we played them they were really scrappy. They did a good job on defense tonight. They backed off and put five on defense. We weren’t aggressive tonight.”
Southern picked up a pair of 3-0 wins over Berea during the regular season and got off to a good on Monday. The Lady Eagles raced out to an 8-3 lead and closed out the set with a solid serving by Brianna Saylor and a kill by Lauren Taylor.
The final three sets were much more competitive.
Berea built a 14-9 lead in the second set behind a block from Hannah Haycraft, a kill from Hannah Williams and an ace from Nikae Banther.
Southern battled back, tying the set at 19-19 on a kill by Jackie Shepherd. The senior had two more kills and Raven Shearer connected on a series of serves to give the Lady Eagles set point.
The Lady Pirates took control of the third set by putting together a 10-1 run that put them in front 18-10. During that stretch, Hayley Penn had two aces and a service winner. Southern tied things up at 25-25, then Penn had an ace that set up set match point, then delivered another solid serve that gave the Lady Pirates the set.
In the seven years that the program has been competing at the varsity level, Berea had never won a set in the district tournament (0-6, 12 sets lost).
“I told them that they were not going to go away and that we were going to have to go out and win this thing,” Grant said.
Southern took control mid-way through the fourth set behind the serving of Kenoa Gallion. The Lady Eagles went up 12-6 and kept the Lady Pirates out of striking distance most of the rest of the way.
Berea got back within seven points, but Shepherd came up with two big blocks, including one on match point.
“Jackie took over in just about every one of those game for us tonight,” Grant said. “You could definitely tell there was a different intensity when she was in the front row.”
Southern lost twice to Central during the regular season and did not win a set. The Lady Eagles, however, are eager for another shot at their cross-county rivals.
“They are a very aggressive team and it seems like when we give up three of four points, we kind of go on a vacation for a while,” Grant said of Central. “They are a solid team. It’s going to be a tough game. I feel like we haven’t given them our best game. I hope this is wake-up call for the girls.”