By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
If you based South Laurel’s odds Tuesday on previous performance you wouldn’t give them much of a chance. You would also be wrong.
The Lady Cardinals claimed the 50th District title with a four-set win over Corbin. It was the same Corbin team that had won all three matches and all eight sets against South Laurel this season.
“I wasn’t surprised. I knew they had it in them all along they just didn’t pull it together as a team. They finally realized last night what it took to play as a team and to not succumb to pressure,” South Laurel coach Mitzi Jones said.
Corbin, the defending district and region champion, brought a 26-7 record. Lady Redhounds coach Liberty Roberts named mistakes as the reason they lost to a team with just 10 wins.
“I feel like in some ways we beat ourselves with a lot of errors and that can happen any given night,” Roberts said.
South Laurel won the first two sets 25-19 and 25-15 by playing nearly mistake free. Getting off to a fast start was a key to their confidence.
“The first set was huge. Just like last night we won the first set and then relaxed. If we’re going to go farther in this we have got to learn to keep it up,” Jones said.
Corbin scored the first three points before South Laurel reeled off six straight. Their first point came when a diving save by Kristen Rickett led to a kill for Savannah Baxter. Kaylee Norvell served a pair of aces to give the Lady Cardinals their first lead. They would lead 6-3 before Corbin worked their way back to a 14-10 advantage.
South Laurel again reeled off six straight points with most of those coming on miss-hit kills by the Lady Redhounds. The lead would continue to flip flop with Corbin’s last lead at 19-18. The Lady Cardinals ended the set by scoring the last seven points behind more strong serves from Norvell.
South Laurel bolted to a 12-1 lead in the second set with Corbin again struggling to keep the ball inbounds. The Lady Redhounds got as close as five points before South Laurel extended the lead again to put Corbin in a two-set hole.
“It’s a bit of a surprise, but I think any team can make progress during the season and I feel like they did,” Roberts said.
Corbin charged ahead in the third set for a 12-6 lead. A run of six straight points was led by the play of Becca Swafford at the net.
“I think Becca had a really strong game. She’s a younger player. This is her first year on varsity,” Roberts said.
South Laurel rallied and took its first lead at 22-21. After a Corbin time out, the Lady Cardinals made a rare mistake with a net serve. Corbin scored the final four points for the 25-22 win.
The fourth set would be the most competitive with the two teams trading leads early. The Lady Cardinals appeared to be in trouble when their fourth service error of the set gave Corbin a 21-15 lead.
“I can’t lie to you. I had flashbacks of region when we had them down and they came all the way back and won. That’s what was going through my mind, but they didn’t know that,” Jones said.
The Lady Cardinals fought back, but were in trouble facing match point at 24-20. The final point never came for Corbin.
First a kill sailed long to give the Lady Cardinals the serve. Corbin then hit two kills into the net. A tip by Katelyn Spicer tied the score 24-24. Another kill went out for Corbin to give South Laurel match point. When the Lady Redhounds couldn’t control Katie Reynolds serve South Laurel was district champion for the first time since beating Corbin in 2010.
“I think we had the momentum, I think our mistakes really got to us tonight,” Robert said. “It was just inconsistency. We would do it right one time and not focus on doing it right every time.”
Both teams move on to the 13th Region Tournament, which starts Saturday in Jackson County.
“(The season) was a learning experience. We told them all along that the wins and losses didn’t matter. It’s what happens now that counts,” Jones said.
Savannah Baxter, Whitney Wilt, Katie Reynolds and Katelyn Spicer were named to the All-Tournament Team from South Laurel. Becca Swafford, Alyson Worley and Carly Jackson made it from Corbin, while North Laurel’s Daylen Gilbert and Marsha Boggs were named to the team.