Chris Stiles | The Robesonian
St. Pauls’ Savanna Lowery, 2, sets during the Bulldogs’ first round 2A state playoff game against Croatan Tuesday in St. Pauls.
ST. PAULS — Against a Croatan team that had not lost a set all season entering Tuesday’s first-round 2A state playoff match, the St. Pauls varsity volleyball team had to play its best if it wanted to beat the Cougars.
The Bulldogs showed flashes of doing so in winning one set, but overall made too many mistakes to stay with their undefeated opponents as Croatan earned a 3-1 win to advance to the second round.
“It honestly reminded me of the beginning our season, hitting the ball out of bounds, trying to go over a block or beside a block, instead of hitting it off of her hands,” St. Pauls coach Jory Barnes said. “I think (Croatan) feeding the right side and their middle (hitter) the first two sets, just tipping towards our setter and us not getting those short balls, is what got us behind. And was hard to get out of that hole.”
Croatan (12-0) won the first set 25-19, the second 25-14 and the third 25-13. St. Pauls (10-3) won the third set 25-14.
The first set began as a back-and-forth affair. From a 9-9 tie, the Cougars took a 17-12 lead but St. Pauls scored five straight to tie the set at 17-17. Croatan answered with an 8-2 run to win the set.
The Cougars led the second set 12-10 after it started similarly to the first; Croatan scored 13 of the next 17 points from there to win the set and take a 2-0 lead.
St. Pauls jumped out to leads of 5-2, 10-5, 13-7 and 21-9 in the fourth set. The Cougars twice got back within 10 but the Bulldogs won the set 25-14; Barnes credited the Bulldogs’ win with playing their own game in the set.
“Our outside (hitters) just started hitting across,” Barnes said. “We kept saying that their defense was set up just like Whiteville’s was, and in that third set, our outside hitters played like they played against Whiteville. We hit hard cross, aiming for that 10-foot line, and found the floor.”
The Bulldogs led the fourth set 3-0 before the momentum shifted back to the Cougars. Croatan scored six straight for an 8-5 lead, and from a 10-7 advantage went on a 12-2 run to take a 22-9 en route to the 25-13 match-clinching win.
“As soon as we get behind, they kind of play safe, they kind of reign it back in,” Barnes said. “Which you’d think would be a good thing, but that’s just not how we play, it’s not how we play successfully. They’ve got to go 110%, and they’ve got to push, they’ve got to play aggressively, that’s how we play best.”
St. Pauls’ Savanna Lowery had 11 assists, 12 digs and nine service points. Aleiah Lowery had six kills, three digs and nine service points; Braxtin Kinlaw had 10 kills; Halie Allen had six assists and two digs; Saniya Baldwin had two assists and 12 digs; Tyasia Baldwin had two blocks and two kills; and Kayley Carter had eight digs.
A few minutes after the match’s conclusion, as the St. Pauls team returned to the floor from the locker room, a long and loud ovation greeted them — even as fewer than 25 people were in the gym — acknowledging the end of a season which netted the program’s first conference championship since 2010.
“Unless you actually win state playoffs, your season ends in a loss, and that sucks, it sucks for anybody,” Barnes said. “So it’s hard for them to recognize the success they’ve had this season. … Maybe tomorrow or next week they’ll be proud of what they’ve done, but tonight just having somebody else cheer for them and tell them they’ve done a good job, it really helps.”
Lady Rams dominate Pinecrest
The Purnell Swett girls basketball team earned a convincing home win in Sandhills Athletic Conference play Tuesday against Pinecrest, 58-30.
Pinecrest (1-1, 1-1 SAC) led 9-8 after the first quarter, but Purnell Swett (2-0, 2-0 SAC) used a 15-2 second-quarter edge to take a 23-11 lead at halftime.
The Lady Rams extended their lead to 41-26 at the end of the third, then outscored the Patriots 17-4 in the fourth.
Kylie Chavis and Natalie Evington each scored 20 points to lead the Rams.
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.