GREENVILLE — It wasn’t like Gunter’s Bethany Gilbreath and Edgewood’s Kenzie Smith were going one-on-one. That’s a feat hard to accomplish when there’s also five teammates on the court.
But as the match between the Lady Tigers and the Lady Bulldogs headed to a deciding fifth game, it was obviously going to come down to who had more success at the net.
Gilbreath was going to be the beneficiary of every attack from her side of the net while Smith was set to receive every pass on her side.
Executing that plan went in favor of the Lady Tigers as Gilbreath led the way to four of the first five points and then nailed the clinching kill as Gunter defeated Edgewood, 22-25, 25-22, 25-14, 23-25, 15-11, in a Class 3A Region II area round match.
Smith, who is committed to North Texas, had some success in Game 5 but then got trapped in the back row and Edgewood couldn’t get her back around in the rotation.
“We held them to two points when she was on the front row,” Gunter head coach Katelyn Gill said. “That was the difference right there.”
The Lady Tigers (33-11) will face Bonham in the region quarterfinals next week. It is the third straight season and the fourth in the last five years Gunter advanced to the third round.
Gilbreath had 25 kills and 16 digs, Rayanna Mauldin put down 18 kills and Jacee Childers finished with 63 assists and 16 digs for the Lady Tigers.
“It was a full team effort. Definitely proud of the way they performed,” Gill said. “Our kids have to fight for their spots so they know when they go in they need to produce. We executed like we planned to.”
The Lady Bulldogs (33-9) were in the area round for the first time 2009 and was trying to reach the region quarters for the first time since 2000. And it looked like Smith might get them there.
“She’s a stud. Our game plan was to slow her down,” Gill said. “That whole team is seniors. They’ve been playing together for a long time.”
While Gunter doesn’t have any seniors, several Lady Tigers have the experience of a deep playoff run to the region final last fall.
They jumped right to the 4-1 lead in the fifth game with Gilbreath leading the way and then had a 4-0 spurt to make it 11-4 as Nyah Ingram landed an ace and Mauldin and Childers put down consecutive kills.
But the Lady Bulldogs had one final push in them. They immediately responded with a 5-0 run, powered by Tabitha Parker and Keeley Randle, and Gunter’s advantage was down to two. Edgewood pulled with two once more, at 12-10, on a kill by Randle, but the Lady Tigers never allowed the Lady Bulldogs to get any closer and Gilbreath closed things out with a kill.
“Whenever you lose Game 4 like that with a team making a late surge, it can affect you,” Gill said. “It was the kids being super resilient. As competitors, they stared that pressure in the face and rose to the occasion.”
Gunter was forced to Game 5 when Edgewood led for almost all of the fourth game. The Lady Tigers’ only advantage came on the first point before the Lady Bulldogs widened the gap. It got to five at 12-7 before Gilbreath and Putnicki spearheaded a 4-0 answer.
Edgewood responded with a 6-2 run and was up 18-14. Mauldin then sandwiched kills around an ace by Audrey Curtis and combo block with Gilbreath as the Lady Tigers tied the score at 21. They tied it twice more — the last at 23 — but could never gain the upper hand. A hitting error and then a block by Randle allowed Edgewood to stay alive.
In Game 3, Gunter took the lead at 6-5 and was never really threatened, thanks to a 7-1 run with Miranda Putnicki in the middle of the action. The Lady Tigers had a 19-11 advantage and were able to cruise to the 2-1 match lead.
The Lady Tigers evened the match in Game 2 but they nearly gave it away after a 15-5 lead. After the teams traded points and Edgewood had its only lead at 4-3, Gunter reeled off four straight points with Shae Pruiett attacking at the net.
Edgewood then called a pair of timeouts to try and halt the Lady Tigers’ momentum but Gunter went on a 9-0 run for a double-digit advantage. The margin sat at 19-11 when the Lady Bulldogs notched five of the next six points.
An ace by Ingram gave Gunter a 22-17 margin but five straight points from Edgewood tied the frame. The Lady Bulldogs couldn’t get a block over in time, Kinzee Hamilton followed with an ace and the Lady Tigers picked up the final point on the next rally.
Edgewood raced out to the lead in Game 1 by earning five of the first six points.
The Lady Tigers chipped away at the deficit and a 9-1 run turned an 11-6 deficit into a 15-12 advantage. Mauldin had three kills in the first four points of the run and Childers put down a pair to close it out.
The Lady Bulldogs then made a push and got even at 19 and Gunter never went back in front in the frame. Mauldin had a kill to tie the score at 20 but three hitting errors by the Lady Tigers followed and Smith clinched the game with a kill.
“We made a lot of unforced errors,” Gill said. “We gave them a lot of points. That got away from us.”