MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Sale Creek wasn’t ready to head home short of its ultimate goal.
And the roadblock Hickman County put up was nothing but a diminutive speed bump.
Sale Creek (38-7) used its fast-paced attack to overwhelm the Lady Bulldogs, 3-0, Wednesday afternoon and remained alive in the loser’s bracket of the TSSAA Class 1A state volleyball tournament at Middle Tennessee State University.
Set scores were 25-9, 25-14 and 25-6, and the match wasn’t that close.
The Lady Panthers then knocked off South Greene 3-0 (25-19, 30-28 and 25-17) to reach the loser’s bracket final against Watertown.
Sale Creek routed Watertown, 3-0, by scores of 25-22, 25-21 and 25-21 and punched its ticket to an uncharted destination – the Class 1A state championship against talented Portland on Thursday at noon CT, also at MTSU.
In the previous two seasons, the Lady Panthers (40-7) reached the state tournament but failed to achieve the plateau they’ll be on while seeking the school’s first state volleyball title.
“It’s amazing,” said Sale Creek senior Madysun Steele, who had 22 of the team’s 56 kills against Watertown. “It’s really hard to believe. We beat Watertown in pool play in their tournament and they beat us in the championship game. I don’t know how to describe reaching the title match here and to play Loretto. It’s emotional. The last two years the team kind of gave up, I think, and didn’t want it bad enough.
“The difference this time is heart. Everybody on this team has the biggest heart and this is what we wanted. This is our year.”
As for the Watertown tournament, the Lady Panthers had business to take care of after beating South Greene.
“We’re going to smash that runner-up plaque with hammers,” Sale Creek coach Debbie Hill said. “Everybody is going to take a whack.”
Now that’s motivation and signals the Lady Panthers aren’t content to finish runner-up to anybody.
Hill added, “We knew we were capable and we put it all together. We didn’t back down, everybody contributed and they wanted it bad. The seniors have been here three years and we fell short twice. I’m so excited. The loser’s bracket is a tough road; we’ve got a lot to prove.”
The Lady Panthers hit the 20-point mark in the first set and had a four-point lead, but the Lady Purple Tigers pulled to within 22-21. Steele rammed three kills home and clinched the first set.
In Set 2, Sale Creek was down 20-18 and five of the last eight points to had a comfortable 2-0 lead. Steele recorded a block, Watertown had three straight turnovers and Lille Morgan iced the set with a tap.
Both teams battle valiantly in the finale: Sale Creek wanted to end it and Watertown wanted to extend the match. The Lady Panthers broke away from a 12-12 tie and eventually built a 22-17 lead. Sydney Gibson and Morgan drilled kills prior to Watertown scoring twice and Steele’s final kill sealed the victory.
When asked if she was tired, Avery Cox, poo pooed that idea, saying, “No. I could still run a marathon” and added, “This group of seniors has played together for years and this has been our goal all along. Nothing compares to this feeling. I think we can show in the championship game against Loretto what we’re made of.”
One of the main Sale Creek cogs was Jayda Perry, who registered a whopping 47 assists with six kills and 12 digs.
“That’s not my best game,” she said. “I’ve had fifty-something before, but I’m so happy it’s hard to put into words. I think of myself like a quarterback out there. It takes a good pass to make it happen and that depends on me and that can be a lot of pressure sometimes.”
Perry had 42 assists in the win over South Greene.
Gibson finished with 13 kills and Reagan Ayres added eight.
As for Loretto, Steele said, “We’re ready for them. We weren’t ready for them in our first game because we were a little nervous. That won’t happen this time.”
Sale Creek 3, Hickman County 0: “Our heads were in the match from start to finish,” said Sydney Gibson, a senior hitter who finished with 16 kills, one dig, one ace and three blocks. “And we never let up.”
About the only thing Sale Creek knew of the Hickman County squad was its affinity to not get involved in a speed game. The Lady Panthers wasn’t about to slow down their quick attacks they’ve relied on all season.
“We hadn’t played them this year and didn’t watch them (Tuesday),” senior Madysun Steele said. “We knew they were slow and didn’t want to play at our pace. We figured out was the case after the first five points.” Steele matched Gibson’s kill total and added 13 digs, two aces and a pair of blocks.
In the final set, the Lady Panthers broke loose from a 2-2 tie with nine straight points. They eventually scored 13 of 14 points and were in command at 15-3. The rest of the match was a formality.
After Hickman County scored a single point, Sale Creek uncorked a finishing 10-2 burst that left the Lady Bulldogs in their wake. Steele had a kill and Gibson had two of her own for the last three points.
Sale Creek played without a hint of pressure and that didn’t come as a surprise to anyone, according to Gibson.
“We weren’t focused on pressure at all,” she said. “We ignored the pressure and stuff because our goal in to win a championship. We came out ready to win. This is our third straight year to be here and we want it (title) real bad.”
Sale Creek’s veteran coach Debbie Hill agreed with her players that a speed game was the team’s best asset going into the morning match.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Speed has been really good for us. We have to have to make us go and that was a great thing today.
“We came in with a better feeling today because we’ve been in this situation before. These girls play better under pressure, I think, but they didn’t show any at all. The best thing is we kept our level of play throughout the match. There was no second-set letdown.”
Said Steele, “We have top-level confidence going into our next match; we didn’t pay any attention to the scoreboard today and just kept playing.”
Sale Creek Stats vs. Hickman County
Madysun Steele – 16 kills, 13 digs, 2 aces, 2 blocks
Sydney Gibson – 16 kills, 1 dig, 1 ace, 3 blocks
Reagan Ayres – 9 kills, 1 dig
Lillie Morgan -- 3 kills, 3 digs, 2 aces
Kayla Phillips – 2 digs, 1 ace, 2 blocks
Jayda Perry – 42 assists, 3 aces, 8 digs
Avery Cox – 15 digs, 1 ace
Allison Smith – 4 digs
Ruthie Parks – 1 dig
Sophia Dozier – 1 dig
Sale Creek Stats vs. South Greene
Madysun Steele – 17 kills, 8 digs, 1 block
Sydney Gibson – 15 kills, 1 ace, 1 block, 3 digs
Reagan Ayres – 10 kills, 1 dig, 1 block
Lillie Morgan – 1 kill, 3 digs, 1 block
Kayla Phillips – 1 dig, 1 ace, 1 block
Jayda Perry – 42 assists, 6 digs, 1 ace, 1 kill
Allison Smith – 4 digs
Ruthie Parks – 6 digs
Avery Cox – 26 digs, 1 ace, 1 kill
Sale Creek Stats vs. Watertown
Madysun Steele – 22 kills, 5 digs, 3 blocks
Sydney Gibson – 13 kills, 1 dig
Reagan Ayres – 8 kills, 1 block
Lillie Morgan – 5 kills, 7 digs
Kayla Phillips – 2 kills, 1 dig, 1 assist
Jayda Perry – 47 assists, 6 kills, 12 digs
Allison Smith – 7 digs
Avery Cox – 8 digs
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)