After dropping the opening set and going down 2-1, the Bearettes battled back to force a tie-breaker set, where they promptly fell behind 8-1 before coming back to claim the exciting five-set victory.
The 21-25, 25-15, 17-25, 26-24, 15-13 Bradley win at Jim Smiddy Arena evened the regular season series between the crosstown rivals, as the Lady Raiders had claimed an earlier victory on their home court.
“We got down several times, but we showed some resilience that we weren’t showing earlier in the season,” proclaimed Bearette head coach Christie McElhaney. “This win pulls us out of fifth place and puts us into a tie for second place in the district. We have three (Soddy-Daisy, Ooltewah, East Hamilton) very tough district matches left, so we control where we finish.”
Bradley (20-17, 5-4) is tied with East Hamilton (20-16, 5-4) for second place behind Ooltewah (22-6, 8-0), while Cleveland (14-16, 4-4) and Soddy-Daisy (34-16, 4-4) are currently knotted for fourth place.
The Lady Raiders will host East Hamilton tonight and Ooltewah Thursday, while the Bearettes will travel to Soddy-Daisy Thursday evening. Walker Valley (17-14, 3-5) makes the short trip to Ooltewah this evening and McMinn County Thursday.
Monday night’s seesaw battle began right out of the gate as Cleveland scored eight of the match’s first 10, before the hosts went on a 9-2 run to take their first lead (11-10) of the evening. Four straight points by the Lady Raiders, then three by Bradley, three more from the visitors and four by the hosts had the score knotted at 18-all.
Bradley’s last lead of the opening set came at 19-18 on a push by all-stater Brooke Copeland, but seven of the final nine points went to the girls in Blue-and-Gray.
The Bearettes bounced back and never trailed in the second set, downing the first five points and 12 of the final 15 for the double-digit win to even the match at a set apiece.
Coach Patricia Flowers was able to reassemble her troops to return the favor in the third set. Like the hosts had done the previous game, the Lady Raiders never trailed in the “hump set,” charging out to 10-3 and 13-6 advantages before getting the final three points of the 25-17 tally off Bearette unforced errors.
With five lead changes and a dozen ties, the exciting fourth set saw Bradley take early 4-1 and 6-3 advantages, before Cleveland rallied to take its first lead at 9-8. After the set score was tied seven times, the Lady Raiders went on a quick 4-1 spurt for its biggest lead at three, but the Bearettes bounced back with a 4-1 run of their own to even things up at 21-all.
After three more ties in the six points, Bradley was able to down the final two points of the extended match to force a tie-breaker set.
Cleveland opened the deciding set on fire with five straight service winners, including a trio of aces by Kellee Geren sparking an 8-1 run for what looked like it might be a runaway.
However, like it had done before Bradley righted its ship and came with a trio of blocks by 6-foot-3 senior Rebecca Reuter keying a 4-0 spurt to close the gap to three points. A tip winner by Allison Botts and a kill by freshman Amber Morman put the visitors back up by five, forcing coach McElhaney to use her final timeout.
After some very loud words of encouragement, the Bearettes returned to the court and ran off six of the match’s next seven points to even the score at 11-all on an ace by sophomore Julia Gaither.
The teams traded the next four points before Bradley claimed the victory on a Copeland kill and a slam attempt by the Lady Raiders that didn’t clear the net.
“We got down quickly there in the tiebreaker, but we were able to fight back and pull it out,” declared coach McElhaney. “We used a new lineup and serve rotation tonight, and it took a little while for us to get used to it.”
Copeland led the Bearettes with 20 kills, 11 digs, four blocks, a pair of assists and an ace. Reuter downed 13 kills and had 6 1/2 blocks and four digs. Freshman setter Hallie Hughes saw increased playing time and responded with 18 assists, 10 digs and an ace.
Junior setter McKenna Stinnett celebrated her birthday by handing out 13 assists, digging out three shots and dropping in an ace. Gaither garnered 18 digs, four kills, a trio of aces and a block in the victory.
Junior Lisa Duvall helped out the Black-and-Gold cause with 10 digs, a block and a half and a kill, while classmate Chanler Grady put on the libero uniform and dug out 17 shots and served up a pair of aces. Sophomore Monica Johnson blocked five shots and had a pair of kills, while classmate Natalie Jennings helped out with three kills, two blocks, a pair of digs and a couple of assists.
For Cleveland, Langford, who is being courted by several colleges, blasted 23 kills, had a half dozen digs and blocked four shots. Geren handed out 38 assists, dug out 15 balls, served up a half dozen aces and downed five kills.
Libero Kayla Lee had 25 digs and 23 service receptions, plus an ace, while senior Eva Wilhelm had 19 receptions and 13 digs. KK Clements helped out with 18 receptions, 17 digs and a pair of aces, with Lauren Lee posting 14 serve receptions, 10 digs and two aces.
Addie Strode powered eight kills and dug out four shots, while Morman downed seven spikes. Amber Botts and Aneisha Barber collected five kills and a pair of blocks apiece for the Lady Raiders.
“We lost all three of our sets on unforced errors when it counted the most,” bemoaned coach Flowers. “We played well, but we had too many missed serves. I’m not unhappy. We gave a good effort. Our girls played hard and it came down to two points. Hopefully we will see them again in the district tournament.”