By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
The defending champions weren’t especially sharp when they took the court Tuesday to face Madison Southern in the title game of the 44th District Tournament in Richmond.
The Lady Indians missed serves and had uncharacteristic attack errors at the net in the opening set — and those miscues allowed Southern to take an early 7-3 lead.
But, Madison Central was able to turn things around.
The Lady Indians fought off a Southern in each set and earned a hard-fought 3-0 win. Central won by scores of 25-20, 25-17 and 25-16.
Both Central and Southern advance to next week’s 11th Region Tournament, which is being hosted by Western Hills.
“We started out a little rough, but we did pull through and got the win in three (sets), which is important,” Central coach Marita Kinley said. “It’s nice for our seniors. It’s good to get that momentum going into regionals too.”
Central and Southern played twice in the regular season, with the Lady Indians winning both matchups (3-0, 3-1).
The teams also met in last year’s district championship game (Central won, 3-1).
Central has now won 10-straight against Southern, but almost all of those matches have been decided by relatively small margins in each set.
This year’s district title game was also a battle.
“They are not an easy team to play because they are scrappy,” Kinley said. “You never know what they are going to throw back at you. They don’t run a traditional offense, so you’ve got to be ready for anything.”
After falling behind by four points early, the Lady Indians rallied behind the serving of Tyra Cain and Payton Templeton. Southern re-gained the lead on a pair of big serves from Megan Faught (13-12) before back-to-back kills by Haleigh Morris put Central back in front to stay.
Templeton had a pair of kills to close out the set.
“We didn’t play our best game tonight and I think in the first game we started pressing trying to make too many big plays instead of being steady,” Southern coach Jeremy Grant said. “I think we got frustrated.”
Central took a 7-3 early in the second set but Southern fought back to tie the score (9-9) on strong serving by Jordan Adams.
Morris ripped off a series of big serves and Templeton had a pair of kills as the Lady Indians stretched their lead back out to 20-12.
“Haleigh came through big time,” Kinley said. “When she was injured earlier in the season she really worked on her serve and I think it has paid off big time.”
Morris delivered at the service line again in the third set. The senior ripped off 13-straight serves as Central took a commanding 14-1 lead.
The Lady Eagles didn’t give up, though.
Southern was able to get back to within eight points (19-11) before the Lady Indians wrapped up the title.
Adams had six blocks in the third set and 12 blocks for the game.
“We dug ourselves too big of a hole tonight,” Grant said.