Gunter sweeps Ponder, advances to third round
AUBREY — The twists and turns of the bracket can lead down many paths. For the Gunter Lady Tigers, it quickly brought them face-to-face with a rival from their not-too-distant past.
The Ponder Lady Lions had won three of the last four matches against Gunter when the teams were together in 9-3A. Last year they split and shared the district title. But in both seasons, the Lady Tigers got the last laugh by getting all the way to the region final while Ponder was eliminated in the third round each time, falling short of a potential playoff rematch.
“They’re an awesome program. Our kids know them very well,” Gunter head coach Katelyn Gill said. “We’ve played against the same kids for three years. We were ready to battle.”
And even though realignment split them apart, they still found a way to play with a non-district meeting during the second week of the season.
Gunter swept that match and did the same with a trip to the third round at stake, 25-15, 25-20, 25-21, in a Class 3A Region II area round contest.
“We know each other so well. When you know somebody like the back of your hand, you know who to pick on,” Gill said. “You know how to attack. You know what you’re getting into. We knew it’d be a fight for every point."
Hanna Rubis, Rayanna Mauldin, Shae Pruiett and Miranda Putnicki led Gunter (26-3), which will face either Emory Rains or Pilot Point in the region quarterfinals later this week. Pilot Point is another recent district foe while Rains has lost just once this season.
“It’s picking up for sure. We have a tough road,” Gill said. “I don’t think they’d want it any other way."
Gracie Perryman and Sawyer Mulkey led the way for Ponder (18-13), which tied Pilot Point as the runner-up in 10-3A and got the second seed by beating the Lady Bearcats in a tie-breaker match.
The Lady Lions proved to be a tougher out than Commerce, which Gunter also swept to begin this postseason run. Twice the Lady Tigers made their move in the middle stages of a game while in order to finish off Game 3, they had to rally late to close it out.
Ponder felt the urgency when it started the third game. The Lady Lions were searching for any momentum to build on after only leading for five points — all early in the first two frames. But they jumped ahead in this one behind kills from Perryman and Averee Tipton and were up 7-4.
Gunter got in gear with a 6-1 run that was bookended by Pruiett kills and Nyah Ingram put down an ace as the Lady Tigers went ahead for the first time at 9-8.
It stayed just about that close the rest of the stanza. Four more times Ponder got back within a point but Gunter managed to keep the advantage until a hitting error tied the score at 17.
Then they traded points — Ponder pulling even, Gunter regaining the lead — until Ponder was up 21-20 for its first advantage since 8-7.
Gill called a timeout, the Lady Tigers settled down and ended the match on a 5-0 burst to claim the sweep. Mauldin had a pair of kills and Putnicki slammed home the final point.
In Game 2, Ponder only led twice, the last at 5-4, before Gunter notched six of seven points. But while the Lady Tigers retained the advantage the rest of that frame, the Lady Lions hung around.
When Gunter went up 16-10 thanks to a 5-1 run keyed by Ingram and Mauldin, Ponder picked up the next three points to get back within three.
It was as close as the Lady Lions would get while Gunter never widened the gap larger than six.
The first game turned out to be the easiest for the the Lady Tigers, who went in front for good at 4-3 and started to slowly pull away. Gunter was up 12-6 on an ace by Pruiett before the Lady Lions trimmed the deficit to four.
Then came the turning point — a 7-0 run that included a pair of kills from Rubis and Mauldin which gave the Lady Tigers a double-digit advantage.
Ponder tried a late rally with four consecutive points but the deficit was too large: the Lady Lions only managed to get within eight and Pruiett and Putnicki helped Gunter finish it off and take the 1-0 lead.
Class 3A Region II