LAPEL -- For the Alexandria Tigers, the number “3” played a huge role in their volleyball semifinal match against the Lapel Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon.
Junior setter McKenzie Adams wears No. 3, and she was back after sitting out a couple of weeks with concussion issues. Also, it was the third time the Tigers had faced the Bulldogs, and Saturday it was the first time Alex had come out on top.
The Tigers stopped the Bulldogs 25-16, 25-17, 15-25, 25-22 to advance to the finals Saturday against Frankton. The Eagles dispatched Sheridan with relative ease, 25-10, 25-14, 25-10.
Alexandria got off to strong starts in each of the first two sets and only trailed for three serves in both sets combined.
The opening set featured a strong net presence by sophomore Kaitlyn Bair, who had five kills. Lauren Dungan added three and Jenna Reece Van Blair had two more. The Bulldogs got a spark from Zoe Freer and had a 9-7 lead on Freer’s serve and a kill by Delany Peoples.
But the Tigers had a pair of five-point runs, the second on the serve of Aubrey McCann.
Alexandria looked to be making quick work of the Bulldogs in Set 2, pulling out to a 15-7 advantage thanks to net work from Bair and Allyson Granger. Lapel fought back to score seven straight points. Emily Eppert had three kills in that stretch, and Makynlee Taylor added a pair of blocks.
But a service error by the Tigers seemed to kill that momentum, and Dungan served five straight points, four of those coming on Bulldog miscues. From 21-14, the Tigers moved on to an easy finish in that set.
“We were able to stay calm when they made runs and not lose our composure,” said Alexandria coach Caitlin Foster. “Lapel has a good team, and we knew going into the third set they would battle back.”
Trailing 4-3, Lapel got a kill from Peoples to tie the score and ran off to a 9-4 lead on Macie Schmitt’s serve. Freer had a pair of kills in that run. Alex clawed back to within 13-12 and 14-13 mostly on the kills from Bair. But they could never catch up, and Lapel forced a fourth set.
In the final set, neither team could open much breathing room. Lapel never got a two-point lead until 15-13 on an ace by Avery Bailey. The Bulldogs thought they had one on the next point, but the chair official made a call that gave the point to the Tigers despite strong protests from Lapel. The Bulldogs led again at 16-15 after a 15-15 deadlock, but the momentum seemed to vanish.
Ganger’s kill tied the game, and a kill by Dungan gave Alex the lead for good. The Tigers forged to a 21-16 advantage before Lapel’s rally cut it to 24-22. A Bulldog hitting error provided the match-winning point.
“Having McKenzie back was huge for us,” said Foster. “She knows our hitters and where they like the ball. Our offense is more consistent with her.”
For the Eagles, it was a matter of just overcoming sluggish starts. They didn’t break away in the first set until they were ahead only 10-9. They rallied from a 9-4 deficit in the second set before rolling over Sheridan. The last time the Blackhawks were in the third set was 2-2, as the Eagles rolled off leads of 11-4 and 17-6.
“We always seem to have slow starts,” said Frankton coach Beth Sperry. “We know we can’t do that against Alexandria.”
The Eagles’ one-two punch in this match was the serving of Aleyah Rastetter and the hitting of Kate Sperry.
Rastetter served 23 points with just two errors. She also combined with Laikyn Lowe to run the offense with their sets.
“Aleyah is a weapon,” said Perry. “None of the girls like to return her serve in practice.”
Kate Perry had 18 kills, including the final point of the match.
“Kate had a good match,” said Coach Sperry. “She was swinging really well.”