High School Volleyball

Rock Hill eases past South Pointe in first round of volleyball state tournament

Bearcats drop rival Stallions for 3rd time this season to move on

bmccormick@heraldonline.comOctober 23, 2012 

— Rock Hill brushed aside South Pointe Tuesday night in the first round of the Class AAAA volleyball state playoffs. The Bearcats zipped out of the blocks in all three sets to claim a 3-0 win, 25-9, 25-12, 25-15, their third this season over the Stallions.

“I wasn’t happy with the draw,” said longtime Rock Hill coach Cindy Elder. “I don’t like to play a region team again, but our kids really executed our game plan well. We served where we wanted to serve, and we played pretty good defense.”

It’s often said that it’s tough to beat the same team three times in a season, but the Bearcats (23-11-1), ranked ninth in the state in this week’s coaches poll, didn’t offer much supporting evidence for that assertion. They took a 6-1 lead in the first set, a 10-1 lead in the second and another 6-1 advantage in the third to put the Stallions (12-11-1) under pressure immediately. It was important for the Bearcats to squash any upset hopes early.

“With them you never you know,” Elder said, adding “they’re either playing really well or they get down a bit. We’ve had a difficult time with them in the past.”

Rock Hill’s difficult time with South Pointe came in the two teams’ first meeting this season in which Elder’s club squeaked out a 3-2 win Sept. 18. The Stallions twice came from a set down to force a decisive fifth, before Rock Hill emerged with a 15-9 win. The victory, coupled with a much easier 3-0 win over South Pointe later in the year, helped the Bearcats to an undefeated 14-0 Region 3 campaign. The Bearcats actually had a losing record outside of region play, but that can partially be attributed to their non-region schedule’s high degree of difficulty. Rock Hill reached the third round of the state playoffs last year and in preparing to try and repeat, if not better that run this season they played five of the nine other teams currently ranked in the Class AAAA top-10.

“For any non-region event I try to find the top teams, the top tournaments to go to,” Elder explained. “It helps. We get beat some time, but we have really good competition, so I think we get better.”

Rock Hill’s play backed up that belief at home Tuesday night. Setter Christen Bragg, who finished with 27 assists, served the Bearcats into a 6-0 first set lead, with Sutton Alexander doing the business at net with a nice slam and block at the net. She finished with six kills and five blocks.

The Stallions relied on finesse dinks and dunks over the Bearcats first line of blockers, but the home team stayed in control with tricky serving and largely error-free play. Bragg’s no-look pushes continually caused problems for Mike Deyton’s Stallions, while they struggled to contain Alexander and freshman Emily Russell at the net. Russell led Rock Hill with 10 kills, while Macey Brazzell added nine.

Gracie Barnes angled in a kill, before Brooke Black’s thumping slam put Rock Hill up 14-6 and forced a South Pointe timeout. Out of the stoppage, Black served four straight points for the Bearcats and they cruised to the first set win.

When the two teams met the first time this season on Sept. 18, South Pointe twice came back to stay in the match, so the second set Tuesday night was the litmus test for what kind of match would unfold. The Bearcats promptly answered that question, seizing an 8-1 lead that forced a South Pointe timeout. The Stallions showed their collective scrap, clawing back to make it 14-9, but a timeout and some quick, sharp words from Elder straightened out Rock Hill.

The home side scored 11 of the next 14 points to wrest control of the match, and, after a fairly quick third set, closed out their sixth straight win to move on to the second round of the state playoffs. The Bearcats will face either T.L. Hanna or Gaffney, at home on Thursday.

Bret McCormick 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T

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