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No. 1 Liberty Sweeps No. 8 Gardner-Webb
The No. 1-seeded Liberty Lady Flames defeated No. 8 seed Gardner-Webb in the first round of the Big South Championship for the third consecutive year, Thursday evening at the Winthrop Coliseum. Liberty cruised to a 3-0 (25-19, 25-17, 25-23) victory, advancing to the semifinals of the 2010 Big South Volleyball Championship presented by Musco Lighting.
With the win, the Lady Flames improve to 24-8 on the year, while Gardner-Webb's season ends with a 5-27 mark.
The Bulldogs came out strong in the opening set, winning three of the first four points. The Lady Flames stayed close, thanks to three kills by Loren Thomas, and eventually tied it, 7-7, on a block by Jade Craycraft and Kendle Rollins. Liberty then took its first lead at 8-7 on a surprise kill by Craycraft. The two teams traded points until 13-all, as the Bulldogs put up several key blocks to stop the Liberty offense.
The Lady Flames then bore down, and three straight kills by Erica Manor, Karyl Bacon and Craycraft, followed by a Manor service ace, gave Liberty a 17-13 advantage.
The Bulldogs didn't lie down, coming back to within two points at 18-16 after a Laura Wilcox kill followed by an ace by Lauren Evans. But Liberty stepped it up, closing out a 25-19 first-set win on Bacon's third kill of the match.
The Lady Flames hit .355 as a team and held the Bulldogs to just .088 for the stanza. Gardner-Webb's Wilcox led all players with five kills, while Bacon, Lillie Happel, Craycraft and Thomas each tallied three kills for the Lady Flames.
The second set started out similarly to the first, with Gardner-Webb taking a quick 3-0 lead. Kills by Bacon and Rollins tied it up, 3-all, and then the Lady Flames went on a 4-0 run highlighted by two Manor kills, putting the score at 7-4 in Liberty's favor.
The Lady Flames found their groove after that, moving toa 16-9 lead thanks in part to two more kills by Thomas and service aces by Happel, Rollins and Bacon. Liberty kept rolling, sealing the 25-17 victory when Wilcox committed an attack error.
The Lady Flames posted another impressive attack percentage (.346), while the Bulldogs continued to struggle, hitting .071 with nine errors in the second set.
Bacon led all players with four kills, while Thomas, Manor and Rollins each contributed two kills. Melissa Richie paced the Bulldogs with four kills.
The two squads went back-and-forth in the third frame, until Liberty broke away for an 8-5 lead after two straight Gardner-Webb attack errors. After a Happel service ace for 11-7, Gardner-Webb Head Coach Chris Phillips called for a timeout.
The Bulldogs fought back to 13-11 after a couple of Liberty miscues and an Evans kill, and tied it up, 14-all, after three straight Liberty errors. Head Coach Shane Pinder took that opportunity to call a timeout of his own.
The third set stayed close from there, as the two teams swapped points and traded the lead until a big Thomas kill gave Liberty a 20-19 advantage. Two points later, Thomas and Craycraft jumped for a block for a 22-20 lead.
But the Bulldogs stayed persistent, coming back to 22-all on two straight Wilcox kills. However, the Lady Flames were ready to end it, and clinched the 25-23 on a kill by Bacon.
Thomas led the Lady Flames with four kills in the final set, while Evans and Wilcox posted four kills apiece for Gardner-Webb.
Overall, Bacon led the Lady Flames with 10 kills, while Thomas recorded nine kills and a .533 hitting percentage. Kelly Haseman led all players with 19 digs, and Craycraft added 28 assists and six kills. Happel posted three service aces.
Wilcox led Gardner-Webb with 10 kills, while Evan Moffitt posted 29 assists and as a team, the Bulldogs hit .143.
The Lady Flames will play their semifinal match tomorrow at 7 p.m., and they will face the winner of tonight's matchup between No. 4 seed Winthrop and No. 5 seed Coastal Carolina.