CLAYTON — Cleveland knows the position it is in entering the last week of Two Rivers 3A Conference volleyball play isn’t ideal. But there is something the Rams can do about that – win out.
Cleveland cleared another step in that process Thursday, topping rival Corinth Holders, 26-24, 23-25, 25-23, 25-18 to move within a game of a tie for second place with Corinth Holders.
“I knew it would be a close match,” said Rams coach Megan Morris. “I’m just glad we came out on the right end of it.
“My girls are in a sense of urgency right now. We have to win out on our schedule in order to have a chance at the playoffs.”
Cleveland (6-9, 4-4) is tied with South Johnston, which the Rams meet this week, for third, which is the final playoff spot available for the league.
Cleveland surprised the Pirates by mixing up their attack on the front line with dinks, tips, bumps and kills, keeping Corinth Holders off-balance.
“They put the ball in smart places,” said Pirates coach Charles Riley. “We thought our girls would know where to fill in those spots, but they still got them down.”
The loss was the Pirates’ second straight and dropped them from a game out of the conference title race and into the scramble for second with Cleveland and South Johnston. Corinth Holders (11-4, 5-3) plays Western Harnett and league-leading Triton this week.
Morris credited her front line of Marina Roe, Brittany Bucklin and Shelby Wise for their efforts leading to the victory.
Roe had 15 kills while Bucklin and Walli Driggers added six each.
Courtney Morris, with 19 assists, added three tips, while Roe had three tips and Bucklin two.
Wise paced the defensive attack for the Rams, registering seven blocks, while Roe and Bucklin added six apiece.
The double blocking of the Rams kept the offensive attack of the Pirates’ Cyarra Pearson and Lindsay Alford at bay, despite totals of nine and seven kills, respectively.
“We’ve been working on our blocking the last few practices,” Morris said. “Because if we are not blocking effectively, then our back row is getting killed.
“We hadn’t really done that before (mixing up the attack). The girls are just starting to figure that out. I’ve been telling them all year they need to be able to do that to be successful. Today, they started to accomplish that.”
The effectiveness of their multifaceted attack enabled the Rams to keep pace with the Pirates. In the opening set, with neither team holding more than a three-points lead. But trailing 23-21, Roe came through with a tip for a point, followed by a kill to square matters.
An ace from Hannah Adams gave the Rams a 24-23 lead, but Cole Narron’s tip for the Pirates tied the game again.
But Roe, on a set from Morris, drove home the go-ahead point and a Corinth Holders hitting error gave Cleveland the first set.
Cleveland roared out to a 17-10 second set lead, but behind a strong service game that included five aces, complemented by three kills from Pearson, three blocks and a kill by Katelyn Leach, the Pirates rallied to even the match with its 25-23 win.
All seemed right with the Pirates, who continued to thrive with the late-set momentum, charging to s 12-6 lead and trading points for a 17-13 advantage.
But the Rams returned to their varied attack, taking advantage of tips from Bucklin and Wise, along with an ace by Driggers to pull even at 19-19.
Corinth Holders used a kill from Lindsay Alford and a pair of aces by Kelly Ammons to take a 22-19 lead, but Roe took over, almost singlehandedly winning the set with a block and four kills down the stretch.
A kill and an ace by Driggers along with Bucklin, Roe and Wise combining for three consecutive double blocks resulting in scores sent the Rams into a 10-6 lead they never relinquished in the final set.
A disconsolate Riley was left looking for reasons as to why his team has been slumping.
“It’s not because we’re seeing teams a second time,” Riley said. “It’s how we are playing right now. For some reason, our girls are not adjusting very well. They are leaving gaps and our defense isn’t getting the balls up to the offense.”