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It’s definitely not something the Central Hardin Lady Bruins want to make a habit of, but it worked out for them Tuesday night.
After falling behind by six points in each of the first two sets, the Lady Bruins used their experience to wear down the North Hardin Lady Trojans.
Led by senior middle hitter Taylor King’s 12 kills, Central Hardin’s balanced attack and seasoned lineup propelled it to a 3-0 (27-25, 25-22, 25-13) win in 17th District play at Bruin Gym.
“We didn’t play near as good skill-wise as we can, but we gutted it out, and that’s what was really important to me,” said senior outside hitter Lauren Christman, who was one of four Lady Bruins with at least seven kills. “When we were down, there were moments we could have just given up and lost the set. But that’s what I really liked about us tonight. We gutted it out.”
For a team which is now 0-38 all-time against Central Hardin, North Hardin sure pushes the Lady Bruins like few in the 5th Region can. The Lady Trojans nearly went up 2-0 in a regular-season match last season and lost by a combined eight points in the district tournament semifinals last season.
That trend continued Tuesday night as the Lady Trojans were in control the first two sets — until the end.
“They were more aggressive than we were, especially the first two sets. We just pulled a couple out of our tail at the end of sets,” said Central Hardin coach Bill Rineker. “The experience is really what kind of got us through it.”
North Hardin (4-2, 1-2 district) pulled ahead 23-18 in the first set on a kill from junior outside hitter Hailey Shelman.
That’s when King, whom Rineker refers to as his most consistent player along with Christman, exerted her will. She combined with sophomore outside hitter Sarah Nichols on a block to cut the deficit to 23-20 and later, her kill put Central Hardin (6-1, 2-0) up 24-23, eliciting a roar from Rineker and the Lady Bruins’ bench.
After Shelman and senior middle hitter Fantasia Grooms tallied kills, Christman responded with a kill and then a block which resulted in a kill before King finished the set with a kill.
“We’ve been working on setting the middles more often, and it really came in handy tonight,” said senior libero Brittany Brangers, referring to King and junior middle hitter Allison Powers (seven kills) coming up big in key situations.
The second set followed a similar pattern, though the Lady Bruins made their run a little sooner this time. Trailing 18-12, Powers had two kills in a 4-0 spurt to get Central Hardin back into it, and then King had two blocks in a 6-1 run to close the set.
“If we could have finished the first two sets the way that we started them, there’s no doubt in my mind that we would have won those two games,” said North Hardin coach Jessica Gunby. “My biggest thing is when we get up on a good team like Central Hardin, we tend to fold under the pressure. Teams like Central Hardin, I don’t care if the score is 24-9 — they’re not going to quit.”
Two demoralizing defeats seemed to sap North Hardin’s energy, and it ran out of gas midway through the third set. Leading 15-13, Central Hardin scored the final 10 points of the set to complete the sweep.
“We just felt like we had the momentum, and we wanted to use that,” Brangers said.
Shelman led North Hardin with nine kills, and her jump serve routinely got the Lady Bruins out of system.
“If she’s on my team, I’m setting her until her arm falls off,” Rineker said of Shelman. “She played awesome. She was probably the best player in the gym tonight.”
Senior setter Amanda Patterson had 20 assists for North Hardin, while senior libero Cassie Ferguson had 10 digs and sophomore middle hitter Regan Mansell had six blocks.
Brangers keyed the Lady Bruins’ strong defensive effort with 24 digs and Verdugt had seven kills, including several booming hits to energize the home crowd. Sophomore Emily Beeler had 13 assists and sophomore Mariah Helton had 12 while sharing setting duties. Helton also tallied 12 digs.
Though it isn’t firing on all cylinders just yet, Central Hardin still feels good about where it’s at.
“I think we just have some kinks to work out,” Christman said. “But I’m glad the effort was there and the heart was there, because that’s what pulls through in games like that.”
UP NEXT: Central Hardin hosts University Heights on Saturday in the Queens of the Court tournament. North Hardin plays at Bullitt Central at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.