SANGER — Sanger head coach Tammy Niemczyk had seen enough early in the first set of Tuesday’s District 9-3A match against Gainesville.
Niemczyk, who cordially had been talking with Gainesville head coach Laura Mehl across the sidelines during pregame warm-ups, was not cordial with her team.
Niemczyk chastised her team for its slow start.
When the final point was tallied, it was Sanger’s strong finishes that propelled the Lady Indians to a 25-21, 25-20, 25-22 victory.
“We came out flat,” Niemczyk said. “We weren’t ready to play. I know what our goals are, and my job is to do whatever it takes to get them there.”
Gainesville (18-16-1, 2-1 district) entered Tuesday night’s match having won its first two district contests.
But that streak was halted after the Lady Leopards were unable to close out each of the three sets with strong performances.
In all three sets, the score was tied at 19. Gainesville was unable to execute as the sets came to a close, something Mehl said has been a problem for the Lady Leopards this season. Gainesville led for much of the first two sets, but Sanger (24-8, 3-1) came away with key points when it needed to.
“We just weren’t finishing,” Mehl said. “We fought hard and came back, and I’m proud of them for that, but we just couldn’t finish it.”
Sanger sophomore Jay Pegues had a team-high nine kills and two blocks. Erin Kearney notched seven kills and nine assists, while Miranda Scott tallied five key blocks in the victory.
Pegues added timely kills when Sanger needed them late in sets. Ever since Sanger got into district play, Niemczyk said, her returning sophomore starter has increased her level of play.
Pegues has led the team in kills the past three matches.
“I think it took her a little while to understand her place on the team,” Niemczyk said. “But once she understood it, she’s stepped up and really become a leader and a person you can count on at all times.”
Sanger led for a majority of the third set before Gainesville countered with a late rally and carried enough momentum for both teams to entertain the possibility of going to a fourth set.
After trailing 21-20, Sanger reeled off four of the next five points, including the game-winning point on a long shot by Gainesville that landed just past the out-of-bounds line.
Both teams will have to contend with Decatur, the No. 7 team in Class 3A, if they hope to win the district title. But for Sanger, Tuesday’s match moved the Lady Indians closer to reaching the postseason, thanks to strong finishes in all three sets.
“This team has a lot of fight and a lot of determination,” Niemczyk said. “They know what their goal is, and they’re not going to let anybody get in the way of it.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.