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The Robesonian

Bulldogs avoid repeat, beat Pirates

By Chris Stiles The Robesonian,

St. Pauls’ Cierra Jones, left, and Jessica McNair, center, attempt to block the spike of Lumberton’s Alona Hanna (10) during Wednesday’s match at St. Pauls. Chris Stiles | The Robesonian

ST. PAULS — Last week when the Lumberton and St. Pauls volleyball teams met, the Bulldogs won the first set before the Pirates took the next three to win the match.

Seven days later, St. Pauls once again won the first set Wednesday and Lumberton won the second — setting up for the possibility of a repeat. But this time the Bulldogs claimed the third and fourth sets, earning a 3-1 win.

“The first time that we played them, we ended up losing our momentum and it was like a decline,” St. Pauls setter Katherin Lowery said. “This time we were like, we can’t do that, we’ve just got to end it and win.”

St. Pauls (9-5, 3-0 Southeastern Athletic Conference) continued the momentum when it resumed conference play Thursday with a 3-2 win over West Bladen; the Bulldogs won the first set 25-20, lost the second and third sets, both by scores of 25-21, then won the fourth set 25-23 and the fifth 15-10.

For the Bulldogs, in addition to their competitive drive against an in-county opponent, there was further inspiration. Tristan Turlington, the 1-year-old cousin of a Bulldogs JV player, was injured in an accident last week and tragically died on Tuesday; the St. Pauls team was already planning to honor Turlington during Wednesday’s match, and was even more emotionally motivated after he passed.

“We wanted to win it really bad, because one, we’re a really competitive group, and two, we kept saying we wanted to win it for Tristan,” Lowery said.

“I think our energy was very high that game — it was incredible actually — and after we lost the second set I feel like we came up as a team together, we thought about the good things, we thought about Tristan, and we just kept strong,” Bulldogs outside hitter Ava Monroe said.

After Lumberton (6-4) won the second set to even the match, St. Pauls (8-5) scored the first six points of the third set during Lowery’s serve. The Pirates closed to 9-7 after their own six-point run, but St. Pauls used a 12-5 stretch to build a 21-12 lead. Lumberton closed again, to 22-17, before the Bulldogs scored three straight for a 25-17 set win.

“Basically it was a mental game for them,” St. Pauls coach Glenda Lowery said. “We’ve had the tendency in the past to get down, and we stay down and we start making errors. … Tonight, when they got down, they had to make that decision themselves that they were going to pull themselves out of it and they were going to fight.”

“We get blocked once or twice, we kind of get in our head and we shut down,” Lumberton coach Kali Carter said. “So I kind of think it’s confidence with all our girls.”

Needing a win to extend the match, Lumberton built a 17-12 lead in the fourth set before St. Pauls tied it at 22-22. A kill and an ace by Alona Hanna gave Lumberton a 24-22 lead, but the Bulldogs scored the next two points to match, and the teams matched points to a 26-26 tie. A Monroe kill gave the Bulldogs a 27-26 lead before an attacking error by the Pirates sealed the match for St. Pauls, with a 28-26 set win.

“Last time, we were so angry we lost that game, all that madness just went onto the court and that just made us a better team,” Monroe said. “I think when we come together as a team, we just go crazy, we go good. I was really excited about that.”

“It was intense,” Carter said of the fourth set. “St. Pauls didn’t back down, and we were on a couple points, we would be off a couple points. It was really a 50-50 game; it fluctuated so much.”

St. Pauls led the first set 11-9 before using a 7-1 run to take an 18-10 lead; the Pirates got back within six at 20-14 before the Bulldogs scored five straight, on Jessica McNair’s turn serving, to win the set 25-14.

In the second set, from a 5-4 Bulldogs lead, Lumberton used a 15-5 stretch to take a 19-10 lead en route to a 25-13 set win.

Katherin Lowery had five aces, 14 service points, seven kills and 18 assists for the Bulldogs, Monroe had eight kills and two blocks, Cierra Jones had three aces, nine kills and 11 assists, KeMya Baldwin had five kills and Jessica McNair had three blocks.

Lumberton’s Leira Smith had five aces, five kills, 23 assists and two blocks, Alona Hanna had three aces, 13 kills and 29 digs, Ava Hanna had 11 kills and Kaylee Lancaster had 28 digs.

St. Pauls snapped a 14-game head-to-head losing streak against Lumberton dating back to 2010. The Bulldogs host Clinton on Tuesday.

“I take that this shows my team we are capable, we have what it takes, when we are talking and moving, we are able to stay right there and compete,” Glenda Lowery said. “If we keep that focus we will be able to do well in the conference.”

The Pirates face Jack Britt on consecutive days next week, on Tuesday in Fayetteville and Wednesday in Lumberton.

“Big picture, I feel like it’s really going to put perspective to the girls that we aren’t there yet,” Carter said. “We’re trying to be and we cannot be if we’re losing games like this, especially in four sets when we should be on our A game. St. Pauls is a good team — but this should’ve been a three-set game for us, even though it would’ve been close.”

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