Saturday, October 21, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers beat PA in league title game

Leader sports editor

With just a few hiccups along the way, the Beebe Lady Badgers won the 5A-Central Conference championship in dominant fashion, beating Pulaski Academy 3-1 Thursday night at Little Rock Christian Academy.

It was Beebe’s first conference championship since 2014, and first-ever conference tournament title. Scores in the match were 25-18, 27-29, 25-14 and 25-17. In the rapidly paced match, Beebe piled up 44 kills once it got its offense rolling.

That took just a little while in game one, but Beebe coach Audra Higgins was pleased with how her team regrouped from the slow start.

Higgins explained what she said to her team during a timeout with an 11-5 deficit.

“I really didn’t say anything except to remind them that they already know how to overcome and get through this,” said Higgins. “I know that because they’re reaching the point in practice now, where they will turn to me and tell me what went wrong before I even have to point out the mistake. They’re understanding more and more, and this one was all them. They pulled through it.”

The turnaround in game one came right after a kill by Reaven Seymore cut the margin to 12-8. That brought libero Brianna Duncan to the service line, and Beebe ripped off 11-straight points, 12 including the service break, for a 19-12 lead.

The service points started with a PA miscommunication that let a pass drop without a set. The Lady Bruins then flubbed a free-ball before Seymore got a block to make it 12-11. After a PA kill attempt sailed long, senior Lani Wolfe got a kill, followed by two more by Seymore that put Beebe up 15-12 and forced a PA timeout. After the break, Duncan served back-to-back aces, Autumn O’Rourke got a kill, and Seymore got another one before PA finally broke serve to make it 19-13.

But the Lady Bruins served long, and then committed a substitution violation that put Beebe up by eight. Two aces by PA’s Carson Miller gave her team some brief momentum, but kills by Wolfe and Libby Hill ended the opening game.

Game two was about as close as one could get. Neither team led by more than four, and PA never led by more than the two-point margin of victory.

Beebe only briefly led by more than two and not until the 20th point. Seymore took serve with the score tied at 17-17. She served an ace and Wolfe got a kill. A kill by O’Rourke gave Beebe the biggest lead up to that point, and another Seymore ace made it 21-17. But the Lady Badgers couldn’t hold the lead.

Seymore then served long to make a three-point game. A kill by PA’s Evelyn Griffith cut it to two, and back-to-back aces by Megan Harrison quickly knotted the match again at 21. Beebe (14-10) helped the Bruins take the lead when Duncan touched a serve that was going well long, and Higgins called another timeout.

Wolfe got a kill after the break to make it 22-22, and neither team led by more than one until kills by Harrison and Griffith gave PA the 29-27 win.

Beebe responded well with its most dominant game of the match, but that also took a bit to get started. PA (19-10) maintained the momentum for the first few moments of game three, taking a three-point lead at 5-2 and maintaining it until 8-5.

Beebe outscored the Lady Bruins 20-6 from that point.

Beebe finally got the jump on PA and grabbed an early lead game four. The Lady Badgers began to stretch the lead when Lexi Devore served back-to-back aces to finish a five-point run that made the score 13-6. PA battled back to within 18-17 with the help of a pair of aces by Harrison, but the Lady Bruins did not score again the rest of the way as Beebe closed with a 7-0 run. A kill by Wolfe broke serve and sent Wolfe to the service line. Griffith hit wide twice to put Beebe up 21-17. Wilson then got a kill and Miller’s back-line swing went into the net. Hill then got a block at the net to set up match point, when Miller again hit the net to end the match.

Griffith led all players with 18 kills, but Beebe had four with at least eight. Seymore led the way for the Lady Badgers with 14 kills. Wolfe added 10 while O’Rourke and Layla Wilson finished with eight apiece. Seymore also led all players with six blocks.

Duncan served three aces while Seymore and Devore had two each. But Beebe was also aced 10 times and missed nine serves. Those are the two major points of focus as it prepares to face 4A-East four seed Nettleton (18-11-1) in the first round of the state tournament next week in Harrison.

“Serve receive and serving will be two main things,” Higgins said. “We’re understanding more, we’re recognizing better we’re playing faster. But we’re giving away too many points in those two areas.” Beebe will try to become the first team in three years to knock a 5A-East team out of the state tournament before the semifinals. The East has made up 100 percent of the final four the last two seasons. The match is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday.