By Bill Cross
For The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. — The Pendleton Heights volleyball team opened up sectional play Tuesday night at New Castle with a four-set (25-19, 25-17, 16-25, 25-20) victory against Connersville.
Pendleton Heights defeated Connersville in three close sets just a few weeks ago, and Tuesday’s match was just as competitive.
Pendleton Heights came out firing early in the first set, building a 6-1 lead behind points by Carly Wilson and Quincey Gary. Connersville cut the lead to 7-4, but the Arabians pulled away again to go up 21-10 on a kill by Elane Stephenson.
Connersville was able to swing momentum back its way and pulled to within five twice at 23-18 and 24-19 before Wilson ended the set with a kill. The first set win gave Pendleton Heights a chance to settle down.
“It was extremely important (to win the set),” Pendleton Heights coach Stefanie Ammirata said. “It’s one of those nights that the girls, especially seniors, you don’t want their Tuesday night to be their last night. You want to give them three more practices and a shot to do something on Saturday.”
The Arabians once again started strong start in Set 2, as left-handed serving senior Delilah Wright was on serve for nine straight points to take a 9-0 lead. Connersville finally got on the board after a return by Ashley King went out of bounds.
The Spartans cut the lead to 10-6 but could get no closer as Pendleton Heights led by at least five points the rest of the way to win 25-17.
Connersville showed fight early in Set 3, taking its first lead of the match. But Pendleton Heights stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to take a 6-3 lead.
Connersville scored 10 of the next 12 points to take a 13-8 lead and never trailed again. The Spartans found dead spots in the Pendleton Heights defense, and the Arabians seemed to lose the steam that carried them through the first two sets. Connersville took the set 25-16 on a kill by Brittany Gabbard.
It set up a crucial Set 4, one that would see whether Connersville’s new found momentum could carry it to a fifth set or if Pendleton Heights could put the Spartans away.
The teams traded points early before the Arabians edged out to a 6-3 advantage.
Connersville (13-19) scored the next four points to go in front. The teams traded points until an illegal hit and two straight Gary points put Pendleton Heights up 12-10.
The Arabians stretched the lead to 17-12 and hung on from there, as the Spartans could not get closer than three at 18-15.
Pendleton Heights took a 24-19 lead on an illegal hit but gave the point right back on a violation. The Arabians returned Connersville’s Madison Lee’s serve, and Gary took care of the win, giving Pendleton Heights the match with a strong kill. Unofficially, Gary and Wilson had 12 kills each, and Wilson served up five aces.
Pendleton Heights (18-10) takes on host New Castle on Saturday at 11 a.m. New Castle is No. 3 in the state with a 26-3 record following a first-round sectional win against Mt. Vernon.
The Arabians lost 3-0 to New Castle earlier this season.
“I’m confident that we can come out Saturday and be competitive,” Ammirata said. “For us it’s just the little things, taking advantage when the opportunities are there.”