WHITEWRIGHT — The Lady Tigers knew they led a victory slip away, not once but twice, and that the wounds were self-inflicted.
A year ago wins were hard to come by but during the first two weeks of this season, Whitewright's improvement has been tangible. It doesn’t make a defeat like this sting any less — not when a 19-11 lead evaporates followed by the deciding game containing seven service errors, including three of the final four points for the opponent.
Learning to keep those issues to a minimum can be difficult at times for a program trying to rebound. Whitewright still sees itself on an upward trajectory after Miller Grove defeated the Lady Tigers, 21-25, 25-21, 27-25, in non-district action.
"Being disciplined in the little things. Once we minimize those errors, we’ll be fine," Lady Tigers head coach Kailey Marsh said. "Any game we lose we didn’t serve well. They know I take that very seriously."
Kayanna Cox had nine kills and two aces to lead Whitewright (4-4), which hosts Sam Rayburn on Tuesday night.
Laney Burnett and Lauren Bullard paced Miller Grove (5-3), which has won four straight.
The Lady Tigers were going for a third straight victory and will surpass their win total in 32 matches a year ago with the next one.
"We do see more confidence. Their demeanor has changed. I think they have more confidence in me as a new coach," Marsh said. "We were running a 6-2 and now we’re running a 5-1. Our hitters are getting more looks and our offense is better."
Whitewright’s first lead in Game 3 came at 19-18 when the Lady Tigers turned a two-point deficit into a 21-18 advantage behind Laira Cate’s effort at the service line.
Miller Grove responded to tie things up at 21 and for the tense finish. Whitewright went in front two more times, the last at 23-22. The ensuing point was a service error which tied the game.
After Burnett got through a block attempt to put Miller Grove a point away, the Lady Hornets had a hitting error. Whitewright made another service error but Miller Grove couldn’t take advantage of it.
A third service error put Miller Grove ahead one final time and a hitting error from the Lady Tigers ended the match.
Miller Grove had jumped out to a 6-2 advantage thanks to a 4-0 burst but a pair of Cox kills during Whitewright’s 5-1 run tied the frame at seven.
Then the teams each scored four straight points, the last stretch by Whitewright to get within 16-14.
The Lady Hornets had used a big rally in Game 2 to extend the match after it looked like Whitewright was going to cruise to a sweep.
Katy Long had some early aces while the Lady Tigers scored the first six points, punctuated by a block from Emily Barnhurst. Whitewright not only maintained its lead, Cox, Callie McGee and Laura Simpson led a 6-1 run which produced a 16-10 advantage.
After Barnhurst’s kill, the Lady Tigers were up 19-11 and that’s when everything changed. Miller Grove forced a sideout, Bullard stepped to the service line and she almost never left. The Lady Hornets turned that eight-point deficit it a 24-19 lead with a 13-0 surge.
McGee and Barnhurst put down kills to stave off game point but a serve into the net handed Miller Grove the final point it needed to stay alive.
Whitewright led for almost all of Game 1 after Miller Grove notched the first point. The Lady Tigers followed with five straight points and the margin remained that when it was 11-6 on the scoreboard.
The Lady Hornets chipped away at the deficit and four times got within a point before they were able to tie it at 17. But Ashton Long slammed down a 50-50 ball and she followed with an ace to give Whitewright the lead back for good.
Burnett overpowered a block attempt to make it 21-19 before Cox's kill provided some late cushion for the Lady Tigers and they took the 1-0 advantage moments later.
The Lady Tigers started the day with a 25-21, 20-25, 25-21 victory against Lone Oak.
Ashton Long had three kills and eight aces, McGee chipped in eight kills and two aces and Simpson finished with five kills, two aces and two blocks.
In earlier non-district action, Ashton Long had eight kills and four aces as the Lady Tigers earned a 25-17, 25-6, 25-16 sweep at Sulphur Bluff.
Barnhurst added six kills and four blocks and Katy Long finished with four kills, 23 assists and six aces.