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Cleburne squeaks past Lady Lions in five-game marathon

Ennis gives host Yellowjackets a scare in 16-4A play
Wednesday night didn’t hold a district win for the Lady Lions, but Ennis did play a thrilling match in Cleburne that went down to the wire.
While the Lady Lions (10-2, 0-2) overcame a rough start to seize control two games to one, the Cleburne Yellowjackets finished strong on their home court to take the five-game win: 25-17, 21-25, 22-25, 25-17 and 15-10. Ennis fans who made the trip saw quite an exciting battle to be sure.
“We played with heart, never quit and seemed to be more of a team throughout the lineup from a communication standpoint,” said coach Kim Vernor.
“We weren’t used to the fast offense coming into district against Midlothian and we saw it constantly tonight. It’s a fantastic experience to have to react to it [defensively] over five games. This was within their grasp and I know the girls are very disappointed that we didn’t come away with the win.”
As one might imagine, several players put up big-time stats for Ennis. Tina Anderson was sensational in the contest with 20 kills, 12 digs, two blocks and an ace. Carli Bragg (11 kills, 10 digs, two aces) and Ashley Lewis (seven kills, 18 digs, three aces, two blocks) made a lot of strong plays, while setter Lauren Hodges (45 assists, three kills, seven digs) was busy to say the least. Ennis also received contributions from Morgan Nichols (three kills, four digs, two aces, assist), Allie Rokas (six kills, three digs, ace, block) and Sharna Polk (four digs).
Game one was neck-and-neck up to 10-11 in favor of Cleburne as Bragg and Rokas put early kills away. Unfortunately, the Jackets went on a tear over the next several points for a 20-11 lead as Ennis didn’t get much done beyond a Nichols kill.
Cleburne was very strong at the net defensively with three blocks during the aforementioned run. Though Bragg and Anderson both came to life late in the game with a couple of kills apiece, the home team wasn’t going to be caught (17-25).
“We came out a little slow in the first game, which I was a little worried about,” Vernor said.
“We weren’t able to put the ball away enough and had to get acclimated to the way Cleburne plays. Our pregame preparation probably needs to be a little better too, especially after a 75-minute drive.
“Cleburne had very good blocking and we have to learn to adjust to that, but we’ll work on it. We started to hit better late, but the deficit was too large.”
Rokas got out of the gate quickly in game two with a kill and an ace. Trailing 3-5, Ennis went on a 9-1 run behind three-straight Lewis service points (ace, Anderson tip, Anderson block) and four-straight Nichols service points (ace, Anderson tip, Bragg kill).
“Ashley had some great serves and the team served well in the middle games, but it’s all or nothing with our jump serving,” Vernor said.
Despite a kill and an ace from Bragg, the Jackets staged a run of their own for a 15-15 affair. Ennis never trailed as the two teams battled to 21-21 with Lewis playing well (tip, kill). The Lady Lions rose up over the final-four points with a Bragg kill, an Anderson kill, an Anderson tip and then Cleburne hit the ball into the net (25-21).
“I thought we came back a lot better in the second game with much more confidence,” Vernor said.
“Our serves looked good and Cleburne made a few more errors. We did enough to keep them from having perfect passes every time. Carli and Tina have to step up like that for us to win.
“They made smart plays and avoided the blocks. This was absolutely the most heart the team has shown this year. Everybody was talking in the huddle – not just one or two.”
Game three was simply unbelievable as neither team enjoyed a three-point lead until the final point. On the way to 11-11, Lewis (block) was digging up everything in sight on the back row while Bragg blasted three kills. During the stretch to 22-22, Lewis (two kills, ace) continued to play well as Bragg, Hodges, Rokas and Anderson (block) all put a kill away.
Hodges was on her game in the middle stages of the match to set the ball on a tee for her teammates to blast.
“We’re still working on new things offensively, but we always revert to what’s comfortable in crunchtime and that’s okay,” Vernor said.
“Lauren stepped up her game to help us take control. A match this competitive is very stressful, but also very exciting. I’m sure the girls are going to be mentally exhausted.”
After finishing game two on a run, Ennis did the same in game three with an Anderson kill, a Bragg ace and an Anderson kill. Lewis had seven of her 18 digs in the third game.
“Tina is an all-around player,” Vernor said.
“She’s not swinging as hard as she used to, but she’s making smarter plays with her tips. Ashley was getting where she needed to be defensively and that’s so important on back row.”
In spite of an increase in Cleburne errors during game four, Ennis fell in an early hole for the first time at 5-10 and then on to 12-17. Anderson (three kills, tip) was still playing well, but serving and hitting errors were also taking their toll on the Lady Lions.
Though the defensive effort was there with a bevy of digs down the stretch, the Jackets managed to increase the lead as they won 25-17. After allowing just one ace through the first-three games, Ennis gave up four in the fourth game.
“Their big hitter really stepped up late [in the match] and fast hit after fast hit had us scrambling,” the coach said.
“It was hard on us mentally trying to dig out of that hole because the girls were also getting tired physically by that point. We had some sloppy miscommunication that gave them the costly aces.”
It was crucial to get off to a fast start in the race to 15 during game five. Despite kills from Anderson and Bragg, Cleburne surged ahead 7-3.
Anderson came up huge with a tip on the following point (three kills in span of four points) and Lewis stepped up (block, kill) as Ennis valiantly surged into an 8-8 tie. Over the final-nine points, however, Rokas was the only one to score with a block and a kill as Cleburne was able to put the match on ice (15-10).
“Some hitting and serving errors definitely hurt us at the end,” Vernor said.
“Little things add up quickly when you’re only going to 15 points.”
Certainly an 0-2 start isn’t where the Lady Lions wanted to be in district play, but they have faced two very good teams on the road. Ennis will now host Waco University on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in its district home opener.
“At least we have University and Corsicana coming up instead of Midway, which should give us a chance to get back on the right track,” Vernor said.
“We’ll work on our defense and quick offense for Friday.”

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Posted by on Sep 18 2008. Filed under Sports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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