WENDELL — When push came to shove Saturday afternoon, Corinth Holders’ volleyball team shoved – with authority.
The Pirates found themselves being pushed around several times by quick, aggressive, talented Hillsborough Orange throughout their opening-round meeting in the NCHSAA 3A volleyball playoffs.
But nearly every time the Panthers pushed the Pirates’ backs to the wall, Corinth Holders found a way to shove back, putting a trio of lengthy runs to secure a four-set (25-21, 25-23, 21-25, 25-17) triumph.
Those runs allowed the Pirates to rebound from deficits of 13-9 and 15-5 in the first and second sets, respectively, and claim a commanding 2-0 lead. Even the third-set loss saw the Pirates come back from a 14-9 deficit, tying the set at 18-, 19- and 20-all before the Panthers took advantage of a quartet of Corinth Holders hitting errors to salvage its only win.
Corinth Holders used an 11-3 run to break open a tight contest in the fourth set, building a 19-10 lead and putting that set and the match on cruise control.
The triumph advanced the Pirates, the No. 2 seed from the Two Rivers Conference, into a second round meeting this week with McMichael, a 3-0 winner over Southwestern Randolph.
With the win the Pirates improved to 14-6 overall. Orange, the No. 4 representative from the Big-Eight Conference, saw its season conclude with an 11-9 mark.
“I think serving tough, serving seams, serving short and serving deep, and putting pressure on them (were the keys),” said Pirates coach Charles Riley.
“We’ve been telling our girls to be aggressive, whether swinging from the back row or swinging from the front row, try not to give any three balls – no matter who we are playing.”
Riley said the Panthers had “some really good offense” and that he didn’t want the Pirates to allow the Panthers to set up their big hitters. But Orange was successful during the early stages of all four sets, with Tara Weller getting the ball to outside hitters Ashley Muench, Caitlin Denson and Andie McKinnon.
That quartet made life miserable for the Pirates with their speed and power, building the 13-9 and 15-5 leads in the first two games.
But the Pirates, which struggled against conference foes late in the season in similar situations, bowed their necks and turned those games around.
The first game saw Lexi Consiglio serve for eight consecutive points in a 9-0 run that gave Corinth Holders an 18-13 lead.
The first six points in the run were hitting errors by the Panthers, forced by Corinth’s defense.
Consiglio delivered an ace to push the lead to 16-13; Cole Narron scored on a tip, and another hitting error gave the Pirates an 18-13 cushion.
Orange regrouped, trimming the lead to 21-19, but a kill by Cyarra Pierson moments later gave the Pirates a 23-19 advantage. Two hitting errors by the Panthers sealed the set.
“I think Cyarra (10 kills), along with Lexi, Cole (15 kills) and Lindsay (Alford, seven blocks) played outstanding for us,” Riley said. “This was the most complete game this team has played all year.”
Samantha Payne added 27 assists for the Pirates, while Katelyn Leach had three blocks.
The second set saw the Pirates come together as a team, particularly on defense after Orange built its 15-5 lead. A block by Narron gave service to the Pirates, who went on an 11-0 run to claim a 16-15 lead.
Included in the spree were a tip by Payne, a block, scoring tip and kill from Alford, two kills from Pierson and a double-block by Alford and Payne.
Three mishits by the Panthers moment later contributed to what would end up as an 18-3 run and a 23-18 lead.
Again, the Panthers rallied, trimming the margin to 24-23 before a bad serve gave the Pirates the 2-0 lead in the match.
“I had no idea we had made that type of run,” Riley said. “We played great defense in that game.”
Included in that defensive effort was a saving third-hit dig by Consiglio from beyond the endline of the basketball floor to just inside the baseline on Orange’s side of the court. Narron contributed another sensational dig in the fourth set, when she made a diving hit of a ball that landed for a Pirates point just inside the right corner of the Panther’s side of the court.
“We just tried to slow them up all day,” Riley said. “That’s what led to our defensive success – just get a little bit of touch. Our main goal was telling them to play with urgency on defense. We were able to get the balls up and over the net.”