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Gunter smashes Sabine to reach region final

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Gunter's Rayanna Mauldin led the Lady Tigers with 14 kills during a sweep of Sabine in a Class 3A Region II semifinal at Sunnyvale. Gunter is now one win from the state tournament.

SUNNYVALE — As the Lady Tigers go deeper into the bracket, things are supposed to get tougher.

Not to mention the fact that for the second round in a row Gunter was facing a team which has suffered just one loss.

But the Lady Tigers are on a mission to get to the state tourney and as they close in on that goal, they are ramping up their level of play. Gunter was in control almost from the start and cruised past Sabine, 25-15, 25-13, 25-7, in a Class 3A Region II semifinal.

“The big thing for us was getting momentum fast,” Gunter head coach Katelyn Gill said. “They were super focused. The level of focus and consistency was very impressive.”

Gunter (28-3) will face either Boyd or Big Sandy Harmony in the region final later this week. It is the third straight appearance in the fifth round for the Lady Tigers, who will be trying to make program history by reaching the state semifinals.

“We’re not putting an insane amount of emphasis on it,” Gill said. “But we’re aware.”

Rayanna Mauldin led the Lady Tigers with 14 kills, Miranda Putnicki added eight kills, Hanna Rubis chipped in seven kills and Jacee Childers handed out 36 assists.

“We have a ton of depth and it shows,” Gill said. “Everybody has embraced their roles.”

Sabine (26-2), which was having its best season in decades and hadn’t even been to the region quarterfinals in eight years, saw its 15-match win streak snapped in barely in hour. The Lady Cardinals’ only other loss was against Beckville.

Gunter capped off the sweep in impressive fashion. The Lady Tigers blitzed Sabine with the first 10 points of the frame — Mauldin and Rubis each put down three kills while Childers chipped in at the net and Kinzee Hamilton landed an ace.

The run ended on a kill by Aubree McCann but Gunter then notched five straight points for a 15-1 lead and the rout was on. It was a 20-5 advantage before the Lady Tigers cruised to the win.

“We didn’t let them breathe,” Gill said. “We wanted to suppress their offense because they’re such an offense-heavy team.”

The Lady Cardinals went toe-to-toe with Gunter at the outset. Maddie Furrh had consecutive aces during a 5-0 run to take a 7-4 lead in Game 1. Sabine was still ahead at 8-6 before the Lady Tigers notched seven straight points and jumped in front to stay. Briley Singleton had back-to-back aces in between kills by Mauldin and Putnicki as the lead grew to 13-8.

Then when Gunter was up 15-10, Childers and Rubis led a 6-1 burst that provided a double-digit advantage which never dipped below eight points the rest of the frame.

The Lady Cardinals’ last lead of the match came at 2-1 in Game 2. Putnicki spearheaded the Gunter charge with three consecutive kills and the Lady Tigers eventually widened the gap to 12-5 on Beth Gilbreath’s block.

Sabine tried to chip away at the deficit, getting with five points, but the Lady Tigers regained control and ended the game with a 7-0 run punctuated by Mauldin overpowering a block and Audrey Curtis putting down an ace.

After being forced to go five in the region quarters against Emory Rains, Gunter was prepared to make sure it didn’t happen again. Now the Lady Tigers are back where they hoped they’d be a year ago — gearing up for one final victory to advance to the final four.

“The whole group returned so they know what it takes,” Gill said. “They are going to will themselves to win.”

Region semifinals

Class 3A Region II

Gunter                3

Sabine                0