POTTSBORO — As the second half of district play began, the Lady Cardinals were looking above just as much as they were looking below.
The crowded nature of the standings led to the wandering eye. Pottsboro sat one match out of a playoff spot, behind Callisburg, and one match in front of Whitesboro.
So while the Lady Cards were anxious about moving ahead in the standings, they also had to make sure to avoid stumbling to a team they beat in the first half.
“It was something we’ve got to take care of if we want to get to our goal,” Pottsboro head coach Kailey Hayward said. “When we play our game and our tempo, we should be fine.”
And while there was a blown lead in the opening game, Pottsboro quickly righted the ship and finished off a 25-23, 25-14, 25-16 win over Whitesboro in 9-3A action.
Hannah Fellinger had 11 kills and seven digs, Caroline Nix put down 11 kills, Taylor Hayes added seven kills, Hannah Graley handed out 16 assists to go with five digs and Hadley Williams totaled 12 assists, six digs and four kills for Pottsboro (18-16, 3-4), which takes on second-place Gunter Friday, has the bye Tuesday and then is at Callisburg, which dropped into a tie with Pottsboro after its loss to first-place Ponder, next Friday.
The Lady Cardinals let a chance to top the defending state champs slip away with a loss in five games. If Pottsboro is going to earn a playoff berth for the first time since 2015, it will have to win that match on the road or be on the wrong side of the tie-breaker with just three matches left to make up the difference.
“You have to be mentally tough and be able to finish matches out and we weren’t able to do that,” Hayward said. “We still have a chance to fix it. We’re going to try to see if there’s some other things we can do to try to make an easier path for us.
“We have five games left and if we want more, they have to work their tails off.”
But the Lady Cardinals couldn’t look ahead because the Lady Bearcats entered the night right on their heels and could pull even with a victory.
Libby Langford had five kills, five assists and 10 digs, Cortlyn Cobb put down five kills, Elly Harper totaled four kills, eight assists and six digs, Jenna King collected six digs and Chesney Wolf finished with five digs for Whitesboro, which remained in sixth place and has a major climb to try and extend its streak of playoff appearances to six.
The Lady Bearcats nearly stole Game 1 in what could have been a tone-setting opener but the Lady Cardinals showed some resiliency with a comeback of their own to eventually pull it out.
Pottsboro took its first lead at 4-3 and continued to the widen a gap that reached its apex at seven on a Hayes kill to make it 17-10.
But Whitesboro had a 5-1 burst to get back in it, pulled even on Harper’s kill at 19 and was on a 5-0 run for a 22-19 advantage.
“I think a lot of teams can say this — if you let one or two errors build into more, you end up in a bad spot,” Hayward said. “That’s gotten us in trouble earlier this year.”
The momentum for the visitors ended there. A pair of hitting errors followed by a Fellinger kill tied the score. Pottsboro then went in front before Cobb had a kill to make it even again before a pair of Whitesboro hitting errors gave the Lady Cardinals the game.
There was no hangover from dropping the initial stanza as the Lady Bearcats notched the first four points of Game 2 and had early control as they looked to square the match.
Pottsboro seized the lead with a 6-0 surge that turned an 8-5 deficit into an 11-8 margin which quickly widened. Fellinger had three kills in a stretch which put the Lady Cardinals up 16-9 and was punctuated on Sammy Wallis’ ace.
“I think they did a great job of picking things up,” Hayward said. “We talked about if we gave the ball up, getting it back as quickly as possible. They really did a good job of staying focused.”
Whitesboro never got closer than eight the rest of the way and was forced to scramble to extend the match.
The Lady Cardinals, however, didn’t let that happen. They never trailed in Game 3 and were quickly up 10-3 on the strength of a 5-0 run. Williams and Fellinger combined on a block and Nix followed with a kill as the Lady Bearcats struggled to keep pace.
Whitesboro did whittle the deficit down to six when Langford powered through a block attempt to make it 16-10 but the Lady Cardinals finished out the match and the sweep to set up what could be an interesting race over the final three weeks of the season.