Whether Hillsboro was overlooking Litchfield due to their 0-8 record or the Panthers just came out firing on all cylinders with their biggest rival in town, Thursday’s volleyball game didn’t shake out how some may have expected.
The Toppers were 5-4 entering the game, but were 5-2 against South Central Conference competition and had played well against some of the conference’s best. That didn’t mean much to Litchfield on April 8, as the Panthers gave Hillsboro all they could handle before succumbing to their rivals in three games, 22-25, 25-20, 25-19.
In game one, Litchfield pulled out to an early lead behind the serving of Cara Pence, who picked up two aces and five straight points to give her team an 8-2 lead. Hillsboro would fight their way back though, as they tied the game on a kill by Alayna McCario, then took a 13-12 advantage on a Litchfield error.
The score would continue to jockey back-and-forth, with Litchfield leading 15-14 and 17-16, only to have Hillsboro come back to take the lead or tie each time.
A service error by the Toppers broke the 17-17 tie and an error and a kill by Pence gave Litchfield a 20-17 advantage, their biggest since they led 12-9 earlier in the match.
Hillsboro would tie the game once more at 21-21, but an out-of-bounds hit and a kill by Emma Walch bumped the Litchfield advantage back up to two points, 23-21. The Toppers had one last serving chance to extend the game, but were called for a player in the net, followed by Litchfield scoring points number 24 and 25 to claim the victory.
Both teams struggled to string points together in game two as the defense took center stage. Painter and Pence formed a formidable duo up front for the Panthers, blocking hits and knocking down kills to keep LHS close.
The game was pretty much neck and neck through 12 points, when Litchfield took a slight lead, first at 14-12, then again at 17-14. Desperate to find something that worked against the Panthers, Hillsboro changed strategies and began to find the gaps in the Panther block, rather than go full bore at Pence and Painter.
The plan worked as Haley Major and Layne Rupert both tipped over kills, while other hits forced the Panthers into errors on the return.
Litchfield’s three-point lead turned into a one-point Hillsboro advantage two turns later and Hillsboro would eventually claim the five-point win when a punch over the net by McCario found the floor.
Game three started out like game two, with the two teams knotted at 5-5 early on. Be it fatigue or some other factor, Litchfield began to have trouble with their form, giving up three points on lift calls, which helped Hillsboro jump out to an 11-6 lead.
The Toppers continued to go with what worked in the end of game two as they dinked and dunked their way past the Panthers block, scoring half their points off of tipped balls over the net. Kaci Papin contributed six kills, including three floaters in the final game and had a big block that gave Hillsboro their largest lead at 22-15.
Hillsboro would take its time to get their final three, unable to string together multiple points, but Litchfield was only able to pull within five as Hillsboro finished off the six-point win.
The Toppers will have another tough conference match ahead of them on Monday, April 12, as they play host to Pana. Litchfield also plays Monday, as they try to pick up win number one on the year with a road trip to Piasa Southwestern.
April 8 at Litchfield
Hillsboro 22 25 25
Litchfield 25 20 19
Service Points: Jordan Jacobs 8, Reagan DeVaisher 8, Haley Major 8, Kaci Papin 7, Ally Devore 2, Layne Rupert 1. Aces: Kaci Papin 1. Kills: Kaci Papin 12, Haley Major 10, Layne Rupert 9, Alayna McCario 3, Reagan DeVaisher 2. Assists: Reagan DeVaisher 17, Jordan Jacobs 13. Digs: Ally Devore 24, Haley Major 16, Layne Rupert 12, Jordan Jacobs 9, Kaci Papin 2, Emma Miller 1, Reagan DeVaisher 1. Blocks: Kaci Papin 2, Alayna McCario 1.
Unofficial Litchfield Statistics
Service Points: Cara Pence 8, Emma Walsh 6, Aly Fenton 4, Isabella Ott 4, Rebecca Painter 3, Annika Rhodes 3. Aces: Cara Pence 2, Aly Fenton 2, Rebecca Painter 1. Kills: Cara Pence 9, Annika Rhodes 4, Becky Painter 2, Emma Walch 1. Blocks: Becky Painter 5, Cara Pence 3.
Records: Hillsboro (6-4, 6-2); Litchfield (0-9, 0-8).