MOUNT VERNON — Trailing Marion 19-18 in the third set of the Class 3A Mount Vernon regional, Massac County’s Patriots had a breakdown in communication and let a ball hit the floor uncontested.
It was the kind of play that could fuel a wild momentum swing. Instead, the Patriots regrouped, winning six of the next nine points and nailing down a regional championship. Massac County won 19-25, 25-21 and 25-22.
Senior Emily Griffith quickly got the serve back for Massac County with a kill in the middle. Then, Aubrey Biggers, another senior, tied the game with another kill.
“We have six seniors,” said Massac County coach Zach Miller. “At the end of the game it seemed like every time a play was going to get made, there was another senior popping up. I don’t think any of it was very pretty. I don’t know if very much of it was in system. But, it was just seniors on both sides of the court fighting for one more game.”
With another Griffith kill and a block by Griffith and Cali McCraw, Massac pushed the lead to 22-20.
Marion managed to tie the game at 22, but the Patriots closed out the match with three straight points. Griffith got a kill in the middle and Biggers found the floor with a well-placed tip. The Patriots wrapped up the title when Kylie Plant’s spike failed to clear the net.
“Our defense has been solid all year,” said Marion coach Ashleigh Benson. “We made some unforced errors and they count in games like this. I feel like our defense picked up a lot. Everyone had hands when we needed it.
“We gave them some free balls there at the end. I feel like that made a big difference in the last game. We kind of set them up for a good offense and they used it.”
And, Massac County managed to squeak out the win without leading hitter Jessie Lewis, who is hobbled by a sprained ankle. Miller said Lewis’ absence created some issues.
“I think one of the biggest keys, our kill leader is sidelined with a sprained ankle,” he said. “She’s been our right side hitter all season. Every time our setter had to take that first ball, there was a little confusion.”
She was replaced by freshman Cali McCraw.
As for the Wildcats, they trailed much of the third set but rallied to take the lead behind solid hitting by Abby Bayer and Plant. However, Marion was unable to sustain a consistent attack.
“That’s been our struggle all year, keeping our rotation and owning a spot in the rotation,” Benson said. “The first game we did that a little bit at the very beginning. Just owning a couple spots in a game like this is going to make the game.”
And, at crunch time, it was the Patriots who were most opportunistic.
The victory pushed Massac County’s record to 30-7. Marion’s season ends at 31-5.
“That (30 wins) was one of the girls’ goals, to keep the standard high for Massac volleyball,” Miller said.
Massac County advances to the Benton 3A sectional, facing Breese Mater Dei Monday night.