TROPHY CLUB — With a vital first-set comeback, a hot start in the third set and a key run in the fourth, the Pilot Point Lady Cats extended their playoff march Thursday night with a 25-23, 18-25, 25-18, 25-17 victory over the Peaster Lady Greyhounds at Byron Nelson High School.
Senior AJ Campbell, who likely will play volleyball at Erskine College next year, propelled the Lady Cats’ offense with 17 kills and two blocks on the night, including a superb serving run in the fourth set.
“She’s my senior captain, so I expect that from her and I think she expects that from herself,” Pilot Point head coach Becky Phillips said. “She’s going on to play college ball, so she’s getting in that mode now. I’ve had her since her freshman year on varsity, and if we feed her the ball, she’s going to get the job done 99 percent of the time.”
Pilot Point showed patience, diligence and mental strength in the first set as its recovered from a 10-4 hole to claim its first lead at 23-22. The Lady Cats held on for the win as senior Feliciana Reed set up Campbell for the finishing spike.
Phillips said she knew from scouting Peaster earlier in the season that the first set was going to be imperative.
“Peaster started out weak both times I scouted them in the first set, so we really came out knowing the first set was going to be crucial. When we were down, I still feel like the team knew that was a major factor in winning the match. Once we got that first set under us, we relaxed a little bit.”
In the second set, the Lady Greyhounds jumped out to another 10-4 lead. Kelsie Coplen’s three kills helped ignite an 8-0 run, giving Peaster a 19-6 lead that it would not relinquish, despite a late 8-0 run by the Lady Cats.
With both teams taking a set, Phillips’ message to her team encouraged the Lady Cats to keep Peaster’s defense on its toes by varying their offensive strategy.
“I told my setters that if they are going to set to the outside, that they had to be smart. I also told them that if we continued to swing hard that they were going to figure us out, so I said that we need to mix up the speed of our balls to keep them guessing.”
The Lady Cats finally got off to the quick start they coveted in the third set as they built a 6-0 lead that they pushed to 14-3 after back-to-back aces by Kirby Smith, who had 15 kills and nine digs on the night. Peaster fought back to within 17-11, but the Lady Cats held on for the crucial third-set win.
In the fourth set, the Lady Cats used a 5-1 run to take a 14-10 lead, prompting Peaster head coach Autumn Threet to call a timeout. The Lady Greyhounds responded with a three-point run of their own that Pilot Point countered with a 4-0 run, inducing another Peaster timeout.
Peaster fought back with another three-point run, but Campbell hit a hot serving streak that saw three aces and another kill to give the Lady Cats a 23-16 lead.
“It’s amazing to be a part of that moment where we take the lead and get a perfect run,” Campbell said. “It’s overwhelming. We all come to the middle and there is intensity. A serve is everything and the momentum dies down. To get an ace is the best feeling in the world.”
Smith finished the Lady Greyhounds off with two consecutive kills to send her team to the regional quarterfinals, where they will face either Gunter or Maypearl on Friday.
“If we play Gunter, we played them twice in district and they took us to five sets,” Phillips said. “They were the only team in our district to take us to five sets, in our last district match. I know Maypearl came in first in their district, but I don’t know if they have a tradition of winning, and we do. I feel like my team, especially after this win, is strong enough to go all the way to state.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .