Triton battled at rival South Johnston, but the Trojans took a 3-1 win on Thursday by scores of 23-25, 25-23, 26-24 and 25-18.
“I definitely wouldn’t say this was our best effort,” said South Johnston coach Matthew Adams. “Hat’s off to them (Triton) for fighting as well as they did. The first three sets were two-point sets and could have easily gone either way. We could have won 3-0, they could have won 3-0, the way the first three sets went. I’m proud of my girls for staying in there.
“I know we’re tired. We went Tuesday night to Lee County (South won 3-1), a long road trip. We played here last night against Garner (South won 3-1). Both of those were four-set matches. And then we come back in here tonight. We had some days off last week because of the hurricane, so back to five days of school, three matches in a row. I’m really proud of the girls for sticking with it and fighting through the adversity.”
Triton coach Wendy Simmons cited mistakes at key moments as being costly.
“Sometimes it’s the little things,” Simmons said. “Sometimes we make a mistake at a bad time. Mistakes are bad, period, but we make one at a bad time and it just makes us just go down. We just have to keep working hard at practice and fixing those little things.”
Katon Blackmon and Mattie Wheeless each recorded a double-double to lead the Trojans (9-1). Blackmon had 11 kills, 13 digs and three aces on 13 service points and Wheeless had 31 assists and 10 digs.
Adams cited Jordyn Brown, with four kills, and Savannah Smith, with three kills, as key boosts off of the bench for South.
“Jordyn, a freshman, Savannah, a sophomore, came off the bench and were ready to go,” Adams said. “Both of them, I thought, were very aggressive, played well and just kind of provided some energy. The last couple of nights playing long matches, just kind of needing some extra fuel from somewhere, I thought they provided it.”
Erica Stanley was a major asset to the Trojans’ defense and service game, with 10 digs and three aces on 15 service points.
“Especially during the run (a 7-0 run in the fourth set),” Adams said. “When she was in the zone and was back there serving, that was really part of what fueled some of the runs that we had.”
LeeAnna Hines had nine kills, four blocks and two digs. Jenna Brown had five kills, one dig and one ace on eight service points. Carlye Durham and Paige Toler had two kills apiece. Kennedy Byrd had one kill, 20 digs and six aces on nine service points. Stanley had one kill and one assist. Wheeless had one kill and two aces on four service points. Callie Sutton had one assist and 14 digs and held serve for seven points.
Evie Pollard had eight kills, Breigh Hobbs had a double-double, with seven kills, 12 assists and 18 digs, and Tyler Grace Gamblin had a double-double, with 16 assists and 12 digs, to lead the Hawks (4-6).
“I think (Hobbs) has been playing very well the whole time,” Simmons said. “Her, Tyler Grace and Evie, I think have really been steady for us. I mean, they make mistakes, too, they all do. But as far as the hustle and the enthusiasm and playing as hard as they can the whole time. And even when they may have to come out, for whatever reason, they’re still cheering their teammates on.”
Gamblin had five kills and three aces on nine service points. Breonna McNeill had three kills, four blocks and one dig and held serve for one point. Bethany Norris had two kills, three blocks and two digs and held serve for three points. Leah Brannon had two kills, 10 digs and four aces on 14 service points. Gracyn Slaughter had one kill, one assist, 15 digs and one ace on two service points. Grace Wilson had one kill. Pollard had two blocks and seven digs. Chelby Pascale had two digs and two aces on 11 service points. Madeline Scott had two digs and one ace on two service points. Hobbs had three aces on six service points.
The first three sets were all decided by a two-point margin.
In the first set, Triton held a late 23-20 lead when South rallied to tie the set. But an error and a Hobbs ace allowed the Hawks to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
Triton held a 17-9 lead in the second set, but South rallied with a 9-1 run to tie the set 18-18. Triton took the lead back with a 5-2 run, South finished the set with five unanswered points, capped by a Stanley kill, assisted by Wheeless, to tie the match.
“The spark plug, the play, was Callie,” Adams said. “The save that she made. I can’t remember when, but she dove toward the bleachers, made a save, and on her way back to get back in the court, they hit a down ball and she somehow dug it and we won the point. Honestly, I thought that was the turning point in the game.”
The third set was again tied late, at 24-24, when South took the set on back-to-back kills from Blackmon and Jenna Brown, both assisted by Wheeless.
With the fourth set tied 5-5, South took control with a 7-0 run, including three kills from Jordyn Brown and with Stanley holding serve for six points, including a pair of aces. Triton rallied to cut the lead to just one, but, holding an 18-17 lead, South ended the match on a 7-1 run, including four aces from Byrd.
South Johnston is at home against Corinth Holders (5-4) on Monday before starting Greater Neuse River 3-A Conference play against a pair of Johnston County rivals, traveling to Clayton (4-5) on Wednesday and hosting West Johnston (6-2) on Thursday.
“We know it’s going to be a challenge, but we feel like we’ve got a team to compete,” Adams said. “We’re just going to come out and try our best and really try to put a number up there on that wall (on the conference championships banner). It’s been since 1996, so that’s something we talk about once in a while. We’ve got the talent. It’s just a matter of, ‘Are we going to work for it?’”
Triton opens Tri-County Six 3-A Conference play at home against Lee County (1-7) on Tuesday before traveling to Southern Lee (4-3) on Thursday.