Wednesday, October 18, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Titans secure state berth

Leader sports editor

There was some adversity to overcome, but the Lady Titan volleyball team found a way to do it on Saturday in a crucial first-round match of the 6A-East Conference tournament. Jacksonville rallied from a big game-two deficit to get a 3-0 sweep of West Memphis and guarantee itself no worse than a four seed in the Class 6A state tournament that begins next Tuesday in Greenwood.

The match hinged on Jacksonville’s comeback in game two. West Memphis had controlled the game up to leading 23-16, but the Lady Titans rallied for nine-straight points for a 25-23 lead.

A stunned group of Lady Blue Devils was never in game three and Jacksonville cruised the rest of the way. Scores of the match were 25-18, 25-23 and 25-14.

The game two comeback was the biggest deficit Jacksonville had overcome for a win all season, and was a great sign for coach Savannah Jacoby.

“It was definitely a sign of growth and maturity,” said Jacoby. “They knew why they were behind and they knew how to fix it. They started playing together as a team again. When they do that, they’re a totally different team. I couldn’t be more proud of the way they kept their composure and overcame adversity today. It’s very encouraging.”

The Lady Blue Devils’ biggest lead in game two was 22-14, and Jacksonville appeared on its way to letting the match become tied at one game apiece.

Sophomore Chandee Wesley got a tip kill to break serve, and then aced West Memphis to make it 22-16. The Lady Blue Devils’ 6-foot freshman Delanie Johnson then got her seventh kill of game two for the 23-16 lead.

But Johnson was long on a kill attempt on the next point, and Jacksonville took serve trailing by six.

From there, Titan senior Italian exchange student Federica Bossi served out the match. Junior Basia Brown got a kill to make it 23-18 and West Memphiscoach Erin Neeley called timeout.

It didn’t help.

Bossi aced the Lady Blue Devils (5-18) out of the break and Aaliyah Burks got a tip kill to pull the Titans to within three. The pressure began to cause cracks in West Memphis’ composure, as a pair of Lady Blue Devils collided on an easy free ball to make it 23-21.

Johnson then miss-hit a kill attempt into the net, and Lady Blue Devil Cameron Aaron stepped across underneath the net to tie the game. Johnson then hit long again, and Bossi drilled another ace to finish off the nine-point, game-winning rally.

Jacksonville sophomore Blair Jones served four-straight to start game three, and the lead grew from there. The margin hit double digits for the first time at 17-7 on back-to-back aces by senior Brittney Eskridge.

Bossi led the team in two categories. She finished with seven kills and four aces. Brown had six kills and Eskridge five. Jones and Burks had three apiece and Wesley finished with two. Jones and Lindsey Holt each had three aces, Eskridge and Wesley had two apiece and Brown served up one. The team finished with 15 aces.

Saturday’s other tournament match saw Mountain Home hammer Searcy by scores of 25-6, 25-13 and 25-14. Jacksonville (10-16) traveled to No. 1 seed Jonesboro (24-5) on Tuesday after Leader deadlines. The winner of that match plays the winner of Mountain Home vs. Marion on Thursday. The losers of Tuesday’s matches meet on Thursday to determine the three and four seeds.