It wasn't a feeling of panic but more one of concern for the Gunter Lady Tigers.
They were not in unfamiliar territory, needing to win a Game 5 for the second straight playoff contest after losing a close fourth game.
But this time instead of gaining the early upper hand, Gunter was quickly behind and a quarter of the way to elimination. Before the pressure really mounted, a quick timeout allowed the Lady Tigers to hit the reset button on the Lady Warriors' momentum.
“I do think that helped,” Gunter head coach Katelyn Gill said. “We knew how this goes. We just had to stay composed.”
The deficit started shrinking and as quickly as Gunter fell behind, it used a pair of runs totaling an 11-0 margin to finish off Bonham, 25-13, 21-25, 25-20, 23-25, 15-9, in a Class 3A Region II quarterfinal match at Denison.
Gunter (34-11) advances to the region semifinals and will face either Commerce or Tatum at 5 p.m. on Friday at Midlothian. The winner will advance to the region final at 2 p.m. on Saturday for a spot at the state tournament. It is the third straight season and the fourth time overall the Lady Tigers, last year's region runner-up, made the region tournament.
Beth Gilbreath had 25 kills and 20 digs, Rayanna Mauldin added 15 kills, Nyah Ingram collected 29 digs and Jacee Childers finsihed with 58 assists and 12 digs for Gunter. “Good teams find the way to win. We had leaders on the court willing us to win,” Gill said. “Nyah Ingram and Jacee Childers are our co-captains and they were the reason we won that game.”
Bonham was in the region quarterfinals for the first time since 2008 and a group headed by eight seniors was trying to reach the region tourney for the first time since 2006, when the program made the state semifinals. The Lady Warriors pulled out Game 4 to keep that dream alive and had the lead in the middle of the fifth game before Gunter rallied to take the lead for good.
“They did a great job. They dug a ton of balls,” Gill said. “Their kids made defensive plays we haven't seen people make all year. They played a fantastic game.”
The Lady Warriors turned the finish of Game 4 into a 4-1 lead. Averi Reeves had back-to-back kills and Gunter was down 7-3. When Shae Pruiett and Olivia Eft combined on a block to force a sideout, the Lady Tigers went a 6-0 run where half the points came on Bonham hitting errors and Lakin Satre overpowered a block for a 9-7 advantage.
Reeves ended the surge with another kill but then had a service error, a category Bonham led, 9-1, in the match. Carsyn Hemby's kill followed to pull the Lady Warriors back within one at 10-9.
But Gunter closed it out with a 5-0 run — Bonham had run out of timeouts and couldn't stop the bleeding — and Mauldin put down three straight kills to clinch it as Gill made some rotation changes in the frame.
“The group we had out there wasn't our big dog group, if you will,” she said. “My kids are gutsy. They pulled it out, willing themselves to a win.”
Bonham forced them into that spot with a gutsy ending to Game 4. The Lady Warriors held the early lead before Gunter went on a 6-1 run for a 9-6 lead. Raegan Shackelford powered Bonham to four straight points before the Lady Tigers notched four straight of their own with the score tied at 11.
The lead never grew bigger than that four-point margin, the last at 18-14, and Bonham started inching closer behind Reeves. A 5-0 burst gave the Lady Warriors a 22-19 advantage but Gunter responded with three straight points to get even at 22. Alli Kirkpatrick's kill was followed by a Shackelford block and Bonham held on to tie the match at two games apiece.
It was Gunter that took control in the latter stages of Game 3. Bonham raced out to a 7-1 lead only to see Gunter battle back and tied it at nine as part of a 10-2 run that put the Lady Tigers in front.
The lead got to five at 19-14 before Bonham had kills from Lily Wilson and Reeves to start a 5-0 run and tie the frame. But Gunter produced a matching 5-0 stretch and Gilbreath gave the Lady Tigers a 2-1 lead with a kill.
Bonham evened the match with a Game 2 victory that forced them to use a late 5-0 run after Gunter rallied to tie the score twice, the last at 17 on a Gilbreath kill. The Lady Tigers' were in front for the final time at 6-5 but the Lady Warriors couldn't build up a sizable advantage.
When Gilbreath overpowered a block and pulled Gunter within one at 19-18, Reeves and Kirkpatrick spearheaded the final surge big enough to withstand the Lady Tigers fending off game point twice.
Gunter had early control when it captured Game 1. Bonham's only lead in the stanza was on the opening point. Childers and Gilbreath bookended a 5-0 run with kills as the Lady Tigers opened up an 8-2 advantage and the Lady Warriors' hitting errors contributed to almost all of a 5-1 stretch that put Gunter up by double-digits — 18-8 — and allowed the Lady Tigers to easily claim the first frame.