Saturday, October 14, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe avenges again

By RAY BENTONLeader sports editor

It seemed like a silly prediction when Beebe coach Audra Higgins said two weeks ago she thought her team could beat Batesville in the regular-season finale. Batesville dominated the Lady Badgers the first time around, winning 3-0 with only the opening set margin within single digits.

On Thursday at Badger Arena, the Beebe ladies made their first-year head coach look clairvoyant, winning 3-2 and handing the Pioneers their first conference loss of the season.

Things didn’t start well. Ironically, the opening set was the worst one of the season for Beebe. Batesville (25-7, 11-1) cruised to a 25-9 victory, seemingly on their way to another dominant win.

But Beebe mustered some gumption and won game two 25-18 before going on to the five-set victory. Scores for all five games were 9-25, 25-18, 23-25, 25-23 and 15-12.

Higgins said she never doubted her team could beat Batesville, even after the pummeling in the first set.

“I never did because game one was an easy fix if I could just get them to listen to me and do it,” said Higgins. “We were passing from our midline, and they were aiming for our shoulders. If you’re locking in at your midline before they even swing, all you’re going to do is shank it off somewhere when they hit it at your shoulders.”

Higgins used every second of the break between games to get her point across, and she did. The Lady Badgers were able to make the passes and get into their transition the rest of the way.

“It’s just a matter of getting them to understand the pace we need to play to be on the level with those top teams,” Higgins said. “You should have your position and angle determined before the hands come together, and you have to be faster with your hands and movement to do that. Being in midline with your feet wide doesn’t help that.”

The final point of the match was not without controversy. With Beebe up 14-12, both teams were in the net simultaneously during the rally, but nothing was called. Batesville got it over after the violations on a down ball. Beebe transitioned quickly and got a fast kill by Reaven Seymore to seal the match.

“The final point really should’ve been replayed,” Higgins said. “Both teams were in the net, but (the head official) let it play out. She was angry about that, but I was angry about other stuff. Their setter was above the net all night. I finally got in trouble over that one. He told me I’d better just go sit down. So I really don’t think the refs were the key factor. They were bad on both sides. Our blockers slowed them down. Once we got our passing right, our hitters did a great job. I think those were the key factors.”

Thursday’s match was the second one in a week in which Beebe avenged an earlier loss. On Tuesday, the Lady Badgers defeated Morrilton 3-1. The Devil Dogs beat Beebe 3-2 back on Sept. 14.

Beebe (14-10, 7-5) won games one and two 25-21 before slumping terribly in a 15-25 loss of game three. The slump continued through two-thirds of game four, but the Lady Badgers rallied for a thrilling 30-28 win to seal the match.

After losing game three, Beebe dug itself a 7-0 hole to start game four. The Badgers climbed out of it once, tying the score at 9-9 with two aces by Bailey Mae. But they went right back to digging. Morrilton went up 21-14 and seemed on the way to forcing the tiebreaker set before Beebe rallied again.

Autumn O’Rourke sparked the comeback with huge block to break serve and hard kills for Beebe’s next two points. Morrilton had three game points up 24-21, but a Morrilton net violation, and Lexi Devore ace and a Morrilton miss-hit tied the game. Beebe had the next three match points, but couldn’t finish it off. Morrilton (7-12-1, 5-7) then got another game point at 28-27, but Beebe scored three straight for the win.

A miss-hit went long on game point to give Beebe the serve. O’Rourke got another kill for match point, and a quick, low set by Layla Wilson caught Morrilton off guard as Seymore hammered it right down the middle for match point.

Seymore led Beebe with 15 kills while O’Rourke had 10 kills and four blocks. Layla Wilson had 20 assists, and Mae finished with eight assists and five aces.

Despite the third-place finish in the 5A/6A District 2 blended conference, Beebe will start play in the 5A-Central Conference tournament today as the No. 1 seed. In what were technically nonconference matches, Beebe beat all three of the top teams from the other leagues that make up the tournament.

The Lady Badgers take the court against McClellan at 11 a.m. at Little Rock Christian Academy. A win in that match means facing the Sylvan Hills-Parkview winner at 5 p.m. Tuesday, also at LRCA.