Host Mount Airy kept its date in tonight’s Northwest 1A Conference Tournament championship match, but no one can say that South Stokes didn’t fight to the very last point.
The Lady Sauras, with 13 victories and a third-place finish in the conference this season, likely already have a spot in the upcoming state playoffs awaiting them. But with the team facing elimination from the tournament in Tuesday’s semifinal match with host Mount Airy, they forced the Lady Bears to hold off a furious rally in advancing 25-22, 25-16, 28-26.
South Stokes trailed 20-15 in set three after an ace from Madeline Mayfield followed by a brutal spike from Arry Ward, but the Lady Sauras (13-9 overall) went on the warpath after that, mounting a comeback that featured four straight points at one juncture, including an ace by Mary Weaver and kills from Lydia Caudill and Lilly Weaver. The visitors tied the set at 23, but then served a ball into the net to give Mount Airy match point. Fortunately, the Lady Bears made a service error of their own, which allowed Macy Nelson to drop a shot into the open middle of the Mount Airy defense for a 25-24 lead and a set point for the Lady Sauras. However, a kill attempt on the next point flew wide. Caudill scored to give Stokes a second set point, but that was as far as the visitors could get. After Mount Airy tied the game at 26, they earned their second match point on a wild play which saw Ward, the Lady Bears’ middle hitter, set a kill for Mayfield. Mount Airy converted its second match point to win the match.
With the win, the Lady Bears (13-11) will host East Surry (23-2) for the tournament title tonight at 6.
The Lady Bears opened the match strongly, covering the floor well and getting strong play on the outside from Piper Draughon and Hannah Williams. Draughon had consecutive kills for a 5-0 lead before Sarah Birkholz finally got the Lady Sauras on the board. That got Stokes going, and it was 5-4 when Draughon struck again, scoring a kill off a nifty back-set from Avery Cox. The Lady Bears got the lead back to 10-5 on a kill by Mayfield and Hanne Cooke’s ace, but Stokes responded with a 7-1 run and led 12-11 on a dink shot by Stewart. The Lady Sauras pressed their advantage and led by as much as 15-12 before Cox turned the momentum back around when she scored an on-two kill. It was tied at 18 when Mayfield made a thunderous kill to put her team back on top, which was followed by another ace from Cooke. The Lady Sauras kept fighting and closed within one more than once, but Cox had a kill from the outside left for a 24-22 lead and then Mayfield ended the set with an ace.
The Lady Bears led 4-0 in set two, but South Stokes rallied and tied it at 10. The rest of the set featured excellent defense from Weaver and just as excellent all-around play from Cox, but it was the latter that made the difference, because while Mayfield and Ward rose to the occasion on the attack, no one did the same for the Lady Sauras. At 16-15, Cox blasted one off Stewart’s hands, then set Ward for a spike, and then Mayfield served and attacked all the way to set point. Stokes saved one but couldn’t stop Cox on the second.
Mount Airy led by five or six points several times in set three, but could never shake the Lady Sauras.