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Liberty Season Ends With Loss to High Point
The No. 1-seeded Liberty Lady Flames struggled to find an answer to the No 2.-seeded High Point attack Saturday, falling, 3-0 (22-25, 24-26, 23-25) in the title game of the Big South Volleyball Championship at Winthrop Coliseum.
It marks the second-straight year that Liberty has reached the championship match, as the Lady Flames dropped a 1-3 decision to Coastal Carolina for last year's title. The Lady Flames are now 5-5 in Big South Championship title matches.
Liberty's season ends with a 25-9 record, while the Panthers improve to 22-12. The Panthers, who entered this year's tournament 1-11 in previous showing at the Big South Championship, won the title in its first-ever appearance in the finals.
The match, despite the sweep, was a dogfight, marked by 23 tie scores and 12 lead changes throughout.
The start of the match saw each team trade points, until the Lady Flames took their first lead, 6-5, on Karyl Bacon's fourth kill of the afternoon. But the Panthers came right back, regaining an 8-7 advantage on a kill by Michelle Chakirelis. High Point then extended its lead to three points, 10-7, after a Bacon service error, two more Chakirelis kills and a service ace by Breanna Holliday.
The Lady Flames fought back to make it a one-point set again, 11-10, on a 3-0 run thanks to a Lillie Happel kill, a Kelly Haseman service ace and a block by Kendle Rollins and Jade Craycraft.
After more back-and-forth play, the Panthers pushed the score to 22-19 following two straight Liberty errors, prompting Lady Flames Head Coach Shane Pinder to call for a timeout.
Liberty came back to win another point on a Rollins kill down the middle, but High Point responded with a kill by Audie Gonzalez for a set point at 24-20.
The Lady Flames fought off two set points, but Gonzalez timed another crosscourt kill to seal the opening-game 25-22 victory.
Bacon led all players with six kills in the opening frame, but as a team, the Lady Flames were held to a .190 attack percentage. High Point, which hit .242, was paced by Gonzalez, who was 4-for-6 in attacks.
Another key factor in the win for High Point was the Panthers' 69 percent sideout percentage, compared to 62 percent for Liberty.
The beginning of the second set reflected the first, as the teams switched off winning points and holding one-point leads. High Point ended that pattern with three consecutive points for a 15-12 advantage, highlighted by kills from Gonzalez and Stephanie Wallin. The Lady Flames struggled to contain the Panthers' momentum, as High Point continued their streak of winning points to 18-12 with another successful Gonzalez spike partnered with two Liberty miscues.
Rollins finally broke up the High Point streak with a solo block, and Gonzalez followed up with an attack error for a 20-14 score. The two squads each shared the next eight points evenly, until High Point made it to set point at 24-18. The Lady Flames didn't back down, and took advantage of six straight Panther errors to tie the score, 24-all.
But a Liberty service error gave the Panthers another chance, and they were able to clinch the 26-24 win on a big block by Chakirelis and Courtney Johnk.
Megan Smith led all players with seven kills and a .417 attack percentage for High Point, while Bacon added five more kills for Liberty. The second set was marked by 11 ties and five lead changes, but it was the Panthers who held on to take the two-sets-to-none lead.
Trouble hit early for High Point in the third frame, as Liberty jumped to a 7-1 lead on aces by Craycraft and Happel and five Panther attack errors. But High Point chipped away, coming back to 8-6 after two more kills by Gonzalez. Then, the Lady Flames responded with kills from Thomas and Bacon for a 10-6 lead.
But High Point stormed right back, scoring five straight points to regain the lead, 11-10.
Liberty came back later with a streak of its own, claiming four consecutive points to tie it up, 18-all. Then, an attack error by Johnk gave Liberty the lead, 19-18, before High Point came right back to go up, 21-19. After a Liberty blocking error put High Point up, 23-21, Pinder brought his team to the bench for a timeout.
Two points later, the Lady Flames saved a High Point championship point with a Happel kill, but Smith came back with a kill to close out the 25-23 win.
The final set saw six tie scores and five lead changes. Gonzalez led High Point with six kills, while Thomas added five kills and hit .444 for the Lady Flames.
Overall, Smith led all players with 14 kills, while Bacon posted 13 for Liberty. Craycraft and High Point setter Jade Craycraft were even at the net, as both jumped for 33 assists. Gonzalez finished out the double-double for the Panthers, as she tallied 12 kills and 10 digs, and Liberty libero also notched 10 digs for the match.
Craycraft and Bacon were both named to the All-Tournament team, while Gonzalez was named the Tournament MVP.