Triton overcame a slow start to win the rubber match with visiting Southern Lee 3-1 in the opening round of the Tri-County Six 3-A volleyball tournament Thursday. Individual set scores were 17-25, 25-23, 25-18 and 25-14.
The match was played at Cape Fear Christian Academy as repairs continue at the Hawks’ gym.
“A lot at stake right now,” said Triton coach Wendy Simmons. I would have to say that probably was the reason for them to come out so slow. At least they showed in the second set and after that they want to play again. That was good to see. Still a few mental mistakes, but overall they seemed to stay focused most of the time.”
The Hawks (9-14) advance to Friday’s second round where they will meet host Union Pines (20-1), the regular season champion.
Simmons was pleased with the senior leadership and play of Alexis Howard. She had 12 digs and led all servers with four aces on 11 service points.
“I was pleased with the way she played,” Simmons said. “Serving, she kept asking about her jump serve and I said, ‘That’s on you. That’s the confidence you’ve got to have in your serve.’ I thought she played very well digging things up and trying to keep everybody up. I was real pleased with what she brought to the court tonight.”
After some early struggles, junior setter Tyler Grace Gamblin was also a strong performer for the Hawks, recording a double-double with three kills, a match-high 27 assists, 10 digs and four aces on nine service points.
“In the first set, she was maybe a little slow-footed, like everybody else was, and maybe not really focused” Simmons said. “But after that, she seemed to settle down and played more like she did the other night against Lee County. I thought she had a good match.”
Serving was a key factor for the Hawks in the win. In addition to Howard and Gamblin’s efforts, sophomore Addie Matthews also led Triton at the line with four aces on nine service points.
“We worked a lot on it yesterday,” Simmons said. “They worked hard on it and it payed off for us. (Matthews) was one of the ones in practice yesterday that really came through on her serve. I think maybe a few things I had to say to them maybe gave her a little more confidence.”
Hannah Jackson had a match-high nine kills, a match-high two blocks, six digs and two aces on seven service points. Evie Pollard had seven kills, one block and one dig. Matthews had five kills and six digs. Gracyn Slaughter had four kills, one assist, 13 digs and one ace on four service points. Breighanna Hobbs had three kills, one assist and 13 digs and held serve for four points. Bethany Norris had two kills and one block. Sarah Phillips had one assist and three digs.
Junior Tanner West had eight kills and three aces on nine service points, senior Kate Lawrence had six kills, a match-high two blocks and three aces, sophomore Josie Poston had five kills and junior Lily Bonner had 18 assists to lead the Cavaliers (8-11).
Southern Lee opened the first set with a 6-0 run. Triton rallied to cut the lead to one at 16-15, but the Cavaliers ended the set with a 9-2 run, capped by a Savannah Birdsong kill, assisted by Bonner.
The second set was a close battled all the way through. After a Lawrence kill, assisted by Bonner, cut Triton’s lead to 24-23, Jackson found an open spot in the defense with a free ball kill, assisted by Gamblin, to end the set.
With Southern Lee holding a 10-9 lead in the third set, a Gamblin kill, assisted by Slaughter, started Triton on a 7-1 run to take control of the set. Triton was able to maintain the led for the rest of the set, which ended on a Cavaliers service error.
Late in the third set, Poston demonstrated her honesty and sportsmanship. An attack by Pollard was initially ruled out of bounds and a point for the Cavaliers, but Poston told the officials that she had touched it before it went out, changing the call from a Pollard error to a Pollard kill and a point for the Hawks.
Holding a 14-11 lead in the fourth set, Triton finished strong with an 11-3 run, with Matthews ending the match on an ace.
Needing to keep winning to keep its season going, Triton will have a big hill to climb Friday, facing a team that has not lost in conference play this season. The Hawks were competitive in the first two matches with Union Pines, but the Vikings won 3-0 at home and 3-1 at Triton.
“Quit the unforced errors and just play with confidence,” Simmons said. “Play smarter.”