SOUTHLAKE — With Denton making the playoffs for the second straight year under head coach Danielle Silva, the Lady Broncos’ goal to make it past the first round after last season’s early exit was met Tuesday as Denton defeated Saginaw 25-23, 22-25, 25-20, 25-22 in the bi-district round at Southlake Carroll.
The Lady Broncos (23-17) next will face Aledo.
“This playoff win is very big for us,” Silva said. “This is my first playoff win as a head coach, so it’s an amazing moment. For the girls, after losing to Canyon Randall, who was the fourth-best team in the state last year, this is a really huge accomplishment. We have Aledo next. They are tough and they took Coppell to five sets, so it’s not going to be an easy game. If we can get past Aledo, there shouldn’t be anything stopping us.”
With several seniors leading the way, Denton’s outside hitters proved to be too much for Saginaw’s defense. Kendall Wagner and Jade Akins collected 17 kills apiece, with Wagner dolling out several well-placed aces.
“They were getting it over our blocks, and we haven’t seen a lot of that in our district,” Saginaw coach Gina Calkins said. “It made it difficult for our defense to find a position. Defensively, we needed to read their hitters better and we made some errors scrambling.”
In the first set, the Lady Broncos took a 9-4 lead. Saginaw used a 7-2 run for a 19-18 lead. Akins then helped deliver the next two points with a well-timed kill and a key block.
“Jade has been more consistent recently,” Silva said. “Even though she took a step back tonight, she turned it on and was there when we needed her.”
Denton finished the set on a 3-0 spurt as Saginaw struggled to get the ball over the net.
Saginaw (23-17) pulled even after using a 5-0 run to take a 19-15 lead in the second set and holding on for the win.
“In the game we lost, our offense was nonexistent,” Silva said. “Our passing was great, but our offense was nonexistent. In the third game we worked together to be more cohesive, and that’s how we won the last two games.”
The Lady Broncos shook off the loss and responded with a 6-2 run capped by a Wagner ace midway through the third set to give them a 16-13 lead. Denton finished the set with a 3-1 run, with Wagner adding her fifth kill of the set.
“She was kind of my voice last year and she has been my voice this year,” Silva said of Wagner. “She’s a captain and she really pulled through tonight. She played more consistent than I’ve seen her play. She had some mental lapses, but she was our rock tonight. She just has a great serve.”
In the match-clinching fourth set, the Lady Broncos shot out to a 4-1 lead with kills from Gennifer Holberg and Wagner. Facing elimination, Saginaw’s offense delivered a 6-0 run that prompted Silva into a timeout with her team down 7-4.
Denton clawed back to tie it at 9, but the Lady Raiders responded with a 4-0 run. Then, the outside hitters came alive for the Lady Broncos, as Wagner, Akins and Morgan Reese, who led Denton with 41 assists, recorded kills to give Denton a 14-13 edge.
“They don’t have the caliber outsides that we have,” Silva said. “So in practice they aren’t getting the outsides’ hits like we are getting. I knew that going in, and that’s why we ran the outside-based offense. Their offense is based in the middle. Our outside hitters are by far our strongest hitters. Jade and Kendall are by far our strongest hitters. They usually get double-digit kills every game. They are pretty hard to handle.”
Denton played the final points nearly mistake-free as Akins helped seal the victory with three spikes. The first was long and returned by the Lady Raiders. Akins put the second one short, and Saginaw again returned. On the third try, Akins buried the final ball into the middle of the Saginaw defense.
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .