EARLY – The Bangs Lady Dragons remained in the thick of the race for the fourth and final playoff berth from District 8-3A with a 25-16, 25-18, 25-15 victory over the Early Lady Horns Saturday, completing the season sweep.
With the win, fifth-place Bangs (8-11, 5-7) is now one game behind fourth-place Eastland (7-8, 6-6) – which fell to 8-3A front runner Peaster Saturday – with two games to play. Bangs visits second-place Brock at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, then hosts Eastland in the regular season finale at noon Saturday.
“I know that we’re good enough to be in that fourth place spot, I just don’t know if we’re too late,” said Bangs second-year head coach Cheyanne Lovelady. “We’re going to do everything we can, we’re going to go try and beat Brock and hope for other victories, and I know the girls are going to come out strong on Senior Night when Eastland comes to our house, so hopefully we can get our revenge then.”
The district season hasn’t gone the way Early (7-14, 2-10) envisioned as the loss of two multi-year starters since the 8-3A schedule kicked off has forced head coach Natalie Whitewood to go with a younger, less experienced line up.
“I have to play for next year so I started moving people up to fill spots,” said Whitewood, whose team has been eliminated from playoff contention.
Bangs – which won the first meeting over Early in five sets on its home court on Sept. 22 – was led by Cloie Montague (6 kills), Halle Lance (6 kills, 9 assists, 14 digs), Skylar Hutchins (17 digs, 1 ace), Madi Martin (11 digs), Hadley King (1 ace, 10 assists), Maggie Morales (4 kills, 10 assists), Jacee Miller (10 digs), Brooklyn Mullins (5 kills, 4 blocks), Kylie Salazar (2 kills), and Jordyn Pitts (1 ace, 9 digs).
“We started kind of slow but my girls have been excited all week to come and play Early at their house,” Lovelady said. “They have some past regrets from last year’s game so to come here and dominate in three was really fun for them.”
In the first set, Early led 9-6 after an ace by Carrigan Norris, but Bangs responded with eight of the next 10 points to grab a 14-11 advantage. King served an ace and Lance tallied a block for a point, while the rest of Bangs’ points came from Early miscues.
Bangs gradually extended the lead to 18-12 before a spike from Early’s Grecia Yebra triggered a run of three straight points that brought the Lady Horns within 18-15.
The Lady Dragons fired back with three points of their own on kills by Montague and Mullins, along with an ace from King, to stretch the advantage back to a half dozen, 21-15. Early added just one more point on a Bangs hitting error, and a net violation against the Lady Horns ended the set.
In the second set, Bangs raced out to a 10-3 lead with kills from Mullins and Lance, and an ace by Pitts, leading the charge.
The Lady Horns crept back within three points, 14-11, following one of several blocks by Savannah Holt during the course of the match.
Clinging to a 20-17 lead, a volley by Lance that sailed over the net and into a vacant area of the Early defense ignited a 5-1 closing run for the Lady Dragons. Pitts also made a diving dig that traveled over the net and a found a hole in the Lady Horn defense in the closing moments. A kill by Mullins later sealed the seven-point win.
The final set featured a 5-3 lead for the Lady Horns thanks to a kill from Norris and a serve by Madie Waldorf that Bangs couldn’t wrangle.
The Lady Dragons then fired off five points in a row, with spikes from Montague and Lance, to regain an 8-5 edge.
A kill from Early’s Gabby Leal brought the Lady Horns within a point, 11-10, but the Lady Dragons answered with four straight – with three kills coming from Morales – to increase the cushion to 15-10.
Bangs pushed the lead to 21-13 before Early made a brief final push, thanks to an ace from Tori Wood-Rush and a kill by Gwen Phillips, but the Lady Dragons recorded the final four points to complete the sweep.
Regarding what impressed Lovelady the most about the Lady Dragons’ performance Saturday, she said, “the confidence in the girls knowing they are good team. We’ve struggled with that in the past, we just weren’t confident. We know this year we can beat any team we play.”
Early wraps up its season at Eastland at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and home against Millsap at noon Saturday.