LAPEL — In sports, there is an axiom that says it is difficult to beat a good team three times in a season.
The Alexandria volleyball team proved that to be true earlier in the day, avenging two earlier losses to Lapel with a four-set win to advance to the Sectional 40 title match.
But on Saturday night, the Tigers became victims of the same idea.
Frankton used one long service run to win the third set, another to gain separation in the fourth set and held off a furious comeback by a resilient Tigers team to claim its first sectional crown since 1996 with a 25-21, 23-25, 25-18, 25-23 win over Alexandria.
Frankton (23-8) will now face Wabash (31-3) next Saturday in the second regional semifinal at Taylor in Kokomo. Tipton (24-12) will face Clinton Prairie (21-15) in the first semifinal at 10 a.m.
Alexandria's season ends at 18-17.
For the first two sets, the teams battled as closely as they had during the season when both matches, which Alexandria won, went the distance. Neither team led by more than five points in the first two sets, the Eagles nosed ahead in the first and the Tigers took the second.
This match was decided by three service runs from the Frankton setters, senior Laikyn Lowe and junior Aleyah Rastetter.
After a kill by junior Kate Sperry broke the Tigers' serve in the third set for a 20-18 lead, Rastetter was handed the ball and served out the set, with Sperry adding two kills during the run. Rastetter's first ace closed out the set and gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead.
She then opened with service in the fourth set, serving up a 5-0 start for Frankton. That lead grew to 10 at 15-5 on an ace by Lowe which capped a 6-0 run from the senior.
The duo combined for 45 assists and five aces overall.
"Both our setters were amazing tonight," Frankton coach Beth Sperry said. "We were in system. It was so much fun to watch those girls play tonight."
"At the beginning (of the run), I was just focusing on keeping them in," Lowe said. "But as we got some separation, I started getting more aggressive."
As it turns out, Frankton needed every bit of that cushion because the two-time defending champs were not going away quietly.
A pair of kills from sophomore Lauren Dungan sparked a 5-1 run and started the Tigers down a comeback road. Eventually, Alexandria closed the gap to two at 20-18.
"This team has so much fight and so hungry for wins, they'll do anything for a win," Alexandria coach Caitlin Foster said. "If that means coming back from down 16-6, they'll fight to do it."
A Kate Sperry kill, the last of her 17, pushed the Eagles' lead back to 24-19 and set up match point. The Tigers fought back through four match points before the fifth kill from freshman Lauryn Bates ended it and sent Frankton into celebration mode.
"She's been on our JV, and I guess we've been grooming her," Coach Sperry said of Bates. "She's a gamer. She's not afraid of having the ball in her hands in pressure situations."
Junior Audrey Cleek added 12 kills and three blocks for the Eagles, while sophomore Chloee Thomas — who transferred from Hamilton Heights — had 10 kills and a block.
"It was a team effort," Thomas said. "It felt amazing. Everything was in control. I was so welcomed here. I love it."
Junior Gabby Carmack chipped in seven kills and a block.
The loss spoiled a big night from Alexandria sophomore Kaitlyn Bair, who led all players with 21 kills and added two blocks. She will be a big part of the future of Tiger volleyball.
"She also had to play some back row for us and held her own very well," Foster said. "She did a great job blocking at the net ... and she did her job plus some."
Junior setter McKenzie Adams had 39 assists for the Tigers, and Dungan had nine kills and two aces. For three Alexandria seniors, Saturday was the final match. Defensive specialists Kenzie Andrew and Morgan Moore and middle hitter Allyson Granger, who had seven kills and four blocks, will be missed by the Tigers going forward.
"We're going to miss them," Foster said. "That takes away one of our big hitters and two of our main defenders. Allyson, her energy on the court and her play tonight got us out of some pinches. That's for sure."
Now the Eagles will set their sites on the regional match with the Apaches. Coach Sperry says they'll be ready.
"I'm excited for that one," she said. "I'm ready for it."