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Liberty Comes From Behind to Edge Winthrop
In front of a packed house at Winthrop Coliseum Friday evening, the No. 1-seeded Liberty Lady Flames avenged two regular-season losses, coming back from a two-set deficit to defeat the host team, No. 4 seed Winthrop, 3-2 (21-25, 17-25, 25-15, 25-22, 17-15). The thrilling semifinal victory put the Lady Flames into the Big South Volleyball Championship for the fourth straight year.
Big South Freshman of the Year Jade Craycraft notched her first triple-double, tallying 10 kills, 43 assists and 11 digs. It was the first triple-double for a Lady Flame since Nov. 2, 2007, when Kallie Corbin accomplished the feat at Presbyterian College.
It marked the first time Liberty has defeated any team after trailing 2-0 since Oct. 9, 2009, at Gardner-Webb. It also was the first time the Lady Flames have done so in the Big South Championship since Nov. 21, 2002. That day, Liberty beat Elon in the first round, 3-2, after trailing, 0-2.
The Lady Flames showed their determination, as they were down by eight points in the fourth set and trailed by four points in the fifth set, before fighting off a Winthrop match point to take the victory.
Liberty (25-8), improves to 5-0 in five-set matches against conference opponents this season. In addition, 2010 is the seventh time the Lady Flames have reached 25 wins in a season, and the third time in the last four years.
Winthrop's season ends tonight, after the Eagles posted a 14-16 overall record.
The Eagles took control first, moving to a quick 3-0 lead in the opening set. The Lady Flames stormed back to take an 10-5 advantage, after posting a 5-0 run on two kills each by Karyl Bacon and Craycraft and a service ace by Erica Manor.
That run gave the Lady Flames a string of confidence, as they then moved to 14-9 on successful attacks by Kendle Rollins and Loren Thomas, partnered with a few Winthrop miscues.
But the Eagles came back from a timeout fired up, winning three straight points to come within two, 14-12, on consecutive kills by Sara Felts, Kelsey Hall and Stephanie Palmer. Shortly after, Winthrop tied it up, 16-all after a Kristin Cruse ace and a block by Hall and Becca Toor.
The two squads traded points from there, going back and forth until two straight Liberty attack errors gave Winthrop a set point at 24-21. The Eagles sealed the 25-21 win, ending a 6-0 set-ending run, on a disguised kill by setter Hall.
Bacon led all players with six kills, while Felts led Winthrop with four kills and a .667 attack percentage. The set saw a total of 15 errors, seven tie scores and two lead changes.
The second frame saw the two teams switch off the advantage until a 4-0 Winthrop run with Kaley Viola at the service line gave the Eagles a 9-6 advantage. Bacon was able to break the streak with a kill for a 10-7 score.
The Lady Flames were able to come within one point at 13-12, but the Eagles had an answer, marching to a commanding 19-13 lead on key kills by Viola and Palmer, and more Liberty attack errors.
The Eagles kept their momentum, and continued to a 25-17 win on a kill down the middle by Kellie Sellers.
Bacon and Rollins led the Lady Flames with three kills apiece, and Rollins posted a .750 hitting percentage. Palmer paced the Eagles with three kills.
The Lady Flames sparked to life after the break, jumping to a 4-1 lead after two straight service aces by Happel. Bacon extended that streak to 5-1 with a kill, prompting Winthrop to call a timeout. But Liberty kept rolling all the way to an 8-3 advantage, thanks to another kill by Bacon and a service ace by Rollins.
The Eagles struggled to contain Bacon, as she came up with two more huge kills for an 11-5 Liberty lead.
At that point, it seemed like the Lady Flames had found their rhythm, until a Winthrop kill and two Liberty errors brought the score to 15-12. But Liberty picked it back up, winning several extended rallies for a 20-14 advantage.
Winthrop couldn't recover, and the Lady Flames rolled to a 25-15 win, snapping a string of seven consecutive set victories by Winthrop over Liberty this season.
Bacon and Craycraft each tallied five kills for Liberty, and Viola added five for Winthrop.
Through the first three sets, Craycraft sat at nine kills, which was more successful spikes than any Winthrop player had at that juncture.
The Eagles sprinted to a 5-0 lead to kick off set four after a Palmer kill, a Carly DeBruhl ace and two block assists by Felts and Palmer. Liberty finally picked up its first point when Bacon jumped for her 15th kill of the match.
Liberty tried to come back from there, but Winthrop had a response for everything the Lady Flames threw out, moving to a 13-5 lead after key kills by Viola and Toor. But then Liberty responded with a 3-0 run on two kills by Thomas separated by a bad set from Toor, bringing the score to 13-8.
After a Winthrop timeout, the Eagles began to pull away, winning three of the next four points for a 16-9 advantage. But the Lady Flames refused to let them shut the door, coming back to 16-12 after kills from Bacon, Craycraft and Happel put Liberty back in the match.
The Lady Flames stayed on fire, winning five more points to extend the run to 8-0, tying it up at 16-all on a big solo block by Thomas.
It was neck-and-neck from there, until Liberty reached set point at 24-21. After a Liberty service error, Thomas closed it out with a kill for the 25-22 victory, sending the match into the fifth and final set.
Happel led all players with four kills in the fourth frame, while Palmer and Viola contributed three each for Winthrop.
The fifth set started out as a dogfight until Winthrop moved ahead, 6-3, after key digs by Kelsey Harrison saved several points for the Eagles. When the teams switched sides, it was Winthrop that held an 8-4 advantage.
Long rallies dictated the next few points, and Liberty chipped away at the lead to come back to 10-8 after kills by Thomas and Happel and a Craycraft service ace. Two straight attack errors by Viola tied it up, 10-all, but the Eagles regained a one-point lead, 11-10, on a kill by Toor. Hannah Anderson answered right back for Liberty, tying it up with a kill down the left line.
After a kill by Bacon and a block by Thomas and Bacon, the Lady Flames moved to a 13-12 lead and Winthrop called a timeout. Two points later, Liberty had match point at 14-13, but Winthrop saved it when a block by Felts and Carolyn Weed tied it up, 14-all. The Eagles then found themselves in a match-point situation on a Liberty attack error, and Liberty Head Coach Shane Pinder called a timeout of his own.
After saving the match point, Bacon served up an ace for Liberty's second match point, then came up with another to seal the exciting 17-15 win.
Bacon and Happel each posted two kills in the final set, and Viola recorded four kills for the Eagles.
Overall, Bacon led all players with 19 kills, while Happel added 11 and Craycraft hit .500 for the match. Kelly Haseman led all players with 23 digs.
For the Eagles, Viola posted 15 kills, while Hall put up 43 assists and Cruse and Harrison added 20 digs each.
The Lady Flames will compete in the championship match tomorrow, taking on No. 2 seed High Point at 2 p.m.