Gunter starts playoff run with sweep of Commerce
PRINCETON — The timeout had no bearing on the outcome but it served as a reminder of where the Gunter Lady Tigers were and where they want to be.
In a season where they challenged themselves by playing the best competition that Class 4A and 5A could offer, it was a moment to show there was still work to be done over the next three weeks to accomplish their goal of the program's first trip to the state tournament.
And even though Commerce wasn't the one to hurt the ending Gunter seeks, it was a glimpse into the struggle a team with a gaudy record can deal with which has nothing to do with an opponent and everything to do with themselves.
"You've got to find a way to win. It doesn't matter who we play," Gunter head coach Katelyn Gill said. "We're going to have to play more clean."
The first round ended with a silver-lining sweep as Gunter defeated Commerce, 25-8, 25-15, 25-13, in a Class 3A Region II bi-district match.
Miranda Putnicki had seven kills and Rayanna Mauldin chipped in six kills for Gunter (25-3), which faces former district rival Ponder in the area round early next week.
"From our bench players to our core starters, everyone contributed," Gill said.
Even with a large group of seniors looking to get back to the region final for the third straight season and this time advance to the final four, there are also a handful of sophomores who were experiencing the playoffs for the first time.
"There's a lot of sophomores in a lot of big roles. For some it's their first rodeo," Gill said. "I was pleased to see them work through those first game nerves."
Payton Miller and Keke Reynolds led the way offensively for Commerce (8-11), which was a region quarterfinalist last season but struggled to a fourth-place finish in 12-3A with a seniorless roster.
The final two games were much closer than anticipated — especially in the wake of how Gunter played for half the night.
There was an 11-1 run early in Game 1, with streaks of six and five points bisected because of a hitting error, that Putnicki, Kinzee Hamilton and Shae Pruiett led as Gunter built up a 14-3 lead.
Bethany Gilbreath and Lakin Satre had consecutive kills during a 5-0 burst which stretched the advantage to 21-6 and the District 11-3A champions cruised to claim the opener.
They were well on their way to doing the same in Game 2. Back-to-back kills from Putnicki were followed with an ace by Hanna Rubis and Gunter held an 8-2 lead. When Jacee Childers put down consecutive aces the margin had widened out to 15-3.
But just as quickly as Gunter had gone about dominating the action, things changed. Commerce then came up with six of the next seven points and led to the timeout which may not have been needed but certainly seemed warranted. And while Commerce wasn't able to get any closer than the six-point deficit it faced at 18-12, the next portion of the match turned into a bit of a slog for Gunter.
They did close out the second stanza on Childers' ace before grabbing the early advantage in Game 3.
But Commerce was buoyed by its improved play, took some of that energy and turned it into its first lead of the match at 8-7. They would extend that by another point but Gunter sensed the urgency of the situation and was not looking to allow the contest to go beyond what was necessary to cinch a sweep.
Gunter took the lead back for good at 11-10, which was the start of nine straight points in a 13-1 surge. Mauldin shouldered much of the heavy lifting in that stretch while Briley Singleton and Rubis landed aces and Putnicki continued her towering presence at the net.
Commerce called a timeout down 23-11 but the damage had been done and it had let whatever momentum gained get away. Just moments later, in barely the span of an hour, Gunter ended the match it hopes will be the first step on a long journey through the bracket.
Class 3A Region II