Litchfield Takes Rubber Match In Rt. 16 Rivalry

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The term “rubber match” generally refers to a game in which one team will be eliminated from a series, arguably when the two teams take things the most serious. While the regional quarterfinal between Litchfield and Hillsboro on Oct. 25 was a rubber match, things had already been pretty serious between the two Montgomery County rivals.

In their two previous meetings this season, the two teams had split a pair of games at LHS, with the Panthers ending a 14-game losing streak against the Toppers with a 25-16, 25-21 on Sept. 2, only to have Hillsboro rally back on Oct. 20, with a 13-25, 26-24, 25-23 win in the regular season and conference finale.

Monday’s game would be a combination of the two previous meetings, with Litchfield winning game one and Hillsboro winning game two. In game three, the rubber match of the rubber match if you will, the Panthers showed that they are a force to be reckoned with as they posted a 25-11 victory over the Toppers to advance to Tuesday’s semifinal game against Alton Marquette.

The win not only avenged the late season loss to the Toppers, but it also snapped a two-game postseason losing streak for Litchfield. Since 1998, the earliest regional results IHSA has on its website, the Panthers are 7-22, with all seven wins coming in different regional tournaments.

While the postseason hasn’t always been friendly to the purple and white, they made themselves right at home on Monday in Carlinville. Hillsboro scored the first point, but Litchfield scored the next three and never trailed after the opening serve.

The lead would volley between two and three points in the early going before Litchfield went on a five-point run thanks to an ace from Emma Walch, kills from Annika Rhodes and Carlee Harmon and a block by Harmon.

From 7-5 to 12-5, the boost in the score seemed to push Litchfield along for the rest of the game. The margin would grow to 10 points a short time later off a pair of kills by Blair Johnson and the Panthers kept Hillsboro at an arm’s length until late in the game.

Another block by Harmon gave Litchfield a 24-16 lead and put the Panthers within a point of victory, but a net call and a hit out of bounds gave Hillsboro two quick points. A kill by Layne Rupert and a hit out of bounds by the Panthers turned the once sturdy eight-point lead into a four-point nail-biter, before Johnson put an end to the comeback attempt with a hard hit the Toppers were unable to control.

The momentum from the end of game one carried over for Hillsboro in game two as they jumped out to a 5-0 lead behind the serving of Kinley Richardson. The sophomore setter put down a pair of aces and handcuffed the Panthers during the streak, which ended when a Topper tip went out of bounds.

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