Saturday, September 20, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Falcons escape JHS in five

Leader sports editor

The crosstown rivalry match between Jacksonville and North Pulaski turned out to be a classic Thursday night at the Devils’ Den at JHS. The heavily favored Lady Falcons were stretched to five games and the home team had all the momentum early in the decisive game five, but a timeout helped the team regroup and a monster service game by Payton Mullen lifted the Lady Falcons to a 3-2 victory by scores of 25-20, 20-25, 25-21, 16-25 and 15-9.

“We didn’t play well,” said North Pulaski coach Ben Belton. “We’re not playing well. We didn’t play like we’re capable of playing until that fifth set.”

Jacksonville entered the fifth set with all the momentum. In game four, Lady Red Devil senior Bailea Mitchell took serve with her team trailing 11-9, and served until Jacksonville held a commanding 18-11 lead. She served two aces during that run while Terionna Stewart and Emily Lovercheck each had kills.

North Pulaski closed the gap to 22-16, but the Lady Red Devils ended it with three-straight points to carry momentum into game five.

North Pulaski scored the first point on a service break, but Jacksonville broke right back and Mitchell took serve again. She served up two-straight aces for a 3-1 lead and Belton quickly called timeout, something he waited six points to do during Jacksonville’s game-four run.

“I told them it stops here,” Belton said of his timeout message. “I said it’s time you girls start playing like you’re capable of playing; start playing like you’re better than them because you are better than them and you need to start playing like it.”

The encouragement worked; because NP broke on the first serve after the timeout, and Mullen took serve for NP.

She immediately hit an ace down the right sideline, and teammate Kiarra Evans blocked a Stewart kill attempt for the second point. Evans and Stewart met at the net again on the next point. This time Stewart’s hit bounced hard off Evans’ block and went straight towards the ground on NP’s side, but Mullen was in perfect cover position for the get to keep the ball alive. NP won the point and the streak continued. Evans got her 14th kill to make it 7-3 and Mullen served up another ace for an 8-3 lead. Evans then scored on another block of a Lovercheck tip that didn’t go high enough to make it 9-3. After two unforced errors by Jacksonville, the streak finally ended at 12-3 with another Mullen ace.

Mullen finished the match with a 29 of 30 serving percentage and 10 aces. North Pulaski scored 24 points off Mullen serves.

Evans led all players with 15 kills and four blocks that scored for the Lady Falcons. Jacksonville actually finished with more team kills, but spread the wealth more, and finished with far more unforced errors. Stewart led Jacksonville with 10 kills and four blocks. Kymberly House had seven kills, a block and two aces. Mitchell finished with six kills and also led Jacksonville in serving. Jacksonville scored 23 points off Mitchell serves in the match.

Lovercheck had five kills for Jacksonville and Raigen Thomas had five for North Pulaski.

The match had potentially big playoff implications. Coming into Thursday’s match, both teams had been beat by the top three teams in the league, and beaten everyone else. Thursday’s match gives the Lady Falcons the upper hand in the race for the fourth spot from the 5A Central, but Belton still has higher goals than that.

“I think we’re going to beat them all at least one,” Belton said of Pulaski Academy, Sylvan Hills and Beebe, who his team has not played in a conference match. “If we can get over these lulls like we had in game four tonight, we can beat all those teams. We just have lapses where we lose focus and stop playing well. But for the most part, we play better when we play the better teams. When we played the others, we play down, and I don’t know how to stop that.”

Beebe beat North Pulaski last Saturday in the Vilonia tournament, and will meet for the first time in a league match on Thursday.

Jacksonville will face Mills at home on Tuesday and travel to McClellan on Thursday.