CEDAR BLUFF – A couple of weeks ago, Spring Garden volleyball coach Ben Carroll decided to shake things up in the Lady Panther lineup. He moved eighth grader Haleigh Molock up from the junior varsity team, since their season was over, and also made some other tweaks within the lineup.
On Monday night at Cedar Bluff in the Class 1A, Area 14 tournament championship match, those moves paid dividends.
After disposing of Gaylesville in their first match 25-8, 25-6, 25-12, Spring Garden secured a spot in the championship match against tournament host Cedar Bluff.
The two teams battled the distance, with the Lady Panthers escaping with a 14-25, 25-22, 20-25, 25-21, 16-14 victory, giving Carroll an early 36th birthday present and Spring Garden (14-34) its fourth straight area tournament championship.
“It was a sigh of relief (seeing that final point scored),” Carroll said. “These young girls needed something. They’ve not won anything this season, so it’s exciting to see the excitement in their eyes, the teamwork they’ve had, the love they have for one another. This is what you play for. You play for postseason. It’s something I’m proud of.”
Next up for Spring Garden is a berth in the North Regional Tournament at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville. The Lady Panthers will take on Area 10 runner-up Sacred Heart at 9 a.m. on Thursday.
Cedar Bluff (21-22) also advances to the North Regional, where it will face Area 10 champion Donoho, also on Thursday at 9 a.m.
“They know it’s one and done now,” Cedar Bluff coach Deidra Davis said. “They know they have to go hard every play. They can’t slack up because those other teams are there for a reason too. I hope this loss will light a fire under them, get some of them motivated and going even more than what they are.”
Monday’s fifth game in the tournament championship match was just like the other four: back and forth.
Spring Garden built as much as a three-point advantage twice (10-7 and 12-9), only to see the Lady Tigers roar back. The game was tied at 14 before the Lady Panthers managed to score the final two points, with last coming on a kill by Rachel Morris.
“She’s just an all-around player,” Carroll said of Morris. “She makes a lot of errors, but she also touches the ball a lot. She serves well. She blocks well. She plays front and back row fantastic, but we needed Mayce Hoag to get some kills and she did. We needed Haleigh Molock and Brea (Bailey) to do their jobs, and they did tonight. You saw the results.”
Morris finished the match with 27 digs and 20 kills. Molock managed 25 digs and six kills. Hoag had nine kills. Macy Reedy contributed 10 digs and five aces. AJ Broome posted 14 assists, 11 digs and five aces. Kristin Tierce tallied 17 assists and 16 digs. Kenley Gowens finished with 10 digs.
Carroll said the team dedicated the win to senior teammate Alyssa Gilley, who suffered an ACL injury back during the Cherokee County Tournament.
“She had meniscus surgery (Monday),” Carroll said. “This win is dedicated to her because she couldn’t be here.”
Abby McBurnett led Cedar Bluff with eight kills. Matison Bedwell posted six kills, four aces and three digs. Laura Ann Hughes contributed 24 assists, five digs, four aces and four kills. Julianne Wilson and Hannah Cosby both had four kills. Cosby also added five aces. Brooklyn Willbanks finished with three digs.
“It was back and forth the whole match,” Davis said. “Spring Garden came ready to play and they showed that. It was a great match to be a part of, a great atmosphere to play in, great effort on both sides. It just didn’t come out on the good side for us.”
In the win over Gaylesville (2-18), Morris posted 15 kills and eight aces. Tierce added 12 assists and seven aces. Broome contributed eight assists and four aces. Reedy and Molock finished with six and five aces respectively.
Adriana Valencia led the Lady Trojans with three kills. Abby Bryson and Savannah Coker contributed an ace apiece. Haley Bryson, Kambre Reed and Malaya Shireman each finished with a kill.