By Richard Greene
Pilot Point senior middle blocker AJ Cambell admitted battling to control her nerves leading up to the Lady Cats’ playoff opener Thursday.
Those nerves evident for all the Lady Cats as they staggered out of the gates, missing two out of their first three serves and finding a tough way to get around Peaster’s pair of middle blockers early.
But the District 12-2A champions recovered behind Campbell and her 17 kills to clear their first hurdle of the playoffs with a four-game victory over Peaster.
Pilot Point (31-7) took the Class 2A Region II area match against Peaster 25-23, 18-25, 25-18, 25-17 at Byron Nelson High School in Roanoke.
“It’s so amazing — the greatest feeling to get this first playoff match out of the way,” Campbell said. “I was nervous thinking about it all day.”
With the victory, Pilot Point moves on to play the winner of the Gunter/Maypearl match Tuesday in the region quarterfinal.
Pilot Point coach Becky Phillips is grateful for the opportunity after the slow start Thursday, which she attributed to Peaster.
“They came out and passed better than I’ve ever seen them,” Phillips said. “They also came out with a fire that they didn’t have against Grandview. We didn’t come out as well.
“I knew [AJ] and Feliciana [Reed] would take control. They have been leaders all year, but the last two weeks they are doing things at 200 percent instead of 100 percent. They picked up all their teammates.”
Campbell made three digs and two blocks and served one ace to along with her 17 kills.
Reed doled out 38 assists and made the proper adjustments in the final two games to help Pilot Point hitters get around Peaster blockers Kelsie Coplen and Karissa Wolfenberger. The duo combined for seven stuff blocks but only three in the final two games — both won by Pilot Point.
“I told Feliciana that we can’t set our outside hitters in the middle with their blockers,” Phillips said. “Our outside hitters and right side hitters had to have the ball set to the antenna. Feliciana took control moved them out.”
With the match tied at a game each, Pilot Point started speeding up their offense getting Coplen especially to move off her spot in the middle. Two Campbell kills helped Pilot Point out to a 6-0 lead in the third game.
“It’s definitely a different game with a big middle,” Campbell said. “They blocked well. It took us a bit to figure them out. The third game, we came out and started figuring them out. With a big blocker, you have to make them move.”
Sierra Brooks’ kill made it 8-1 and had Pilot Point on a roll. Brooks finished with four kills and recorded a team-high 12 digs.
“If I had to pick a player of the game, it would be Sierra,” Phillips said.
Pilot Point led by as many as 10, 16-6, on the way to the seven-point win in the pivotal third set.
Campbell’s first of a pair of kills in the fourth game put Pilot Point up two, 12-10. With a chance to close out the match, the Lady Cats’ never allowed Peaster within two the rest of the game. Kirby Smith, who finished with 15 kills, put down back-to-back kills to close out the match and send Pilot Point to the next round.
Pilot Point advanced despite missing 13 serves. It missed four in the first set. The Lady Cats fell behind 10-4 in the opening game. Pilot Point then went on a 7-1 run to tie the game at 11.
Peaster inched back ahead and held the lead until Mackenzie David’s hard serve forced a service receive error by Peaster to knot the game at 22. Two more Peaster errors put Pilot Point ahead at game point, 24-22.
Two points later, Campbell completed Pilot Point’s rally with a game-ending kill.
Peaster jumped out to a 10-4 lead again in game two. Instead of allowing another Pilot Point rally, Peaster pulled away, leading by as many as 11, 20-9, on the way to the seven-point win.
Coplen had four of her team-high 13 kills in game two. Wolfenberger finished with 12 kills for Peaster.