Gunter makes it to state for the first time
ROYSE CITY — For much of the playoffs they have had the look of a team on a mission. And the one time they were tested, the Gunter Lady Tigers rose to the occasion like a group set to meet expectations.
When you bring everyone back from a group so close to reaching the state tournament, it automatically becomes the bar for the following season.
And as the Lady Tigers got closer to achieving that goal, they were going to make sure no one stood in their way.
“We wanted to have a dominant win. Our kids have been extremely focused and the product on the floor as shown that,” Gunter head coach Katelyn Gill said. “This group is extremely talented.”
The Lady Tigers will take their talent to the final four after defeating Harmony, 25-11, 25-19, 25-21, in the Class 3A Region II final.
After coming up short in the region final the previous two seasons, including holding a 2-0 lead a year ago, this was redemption.
“Winning was the only option,” senior setter Jacee Childers said. “We didn’t feel any other way. It’s awesome to see us do what we wanted to do and accomplish what we’ve accomplished.”
Gunter (29-3) advances to the state semifinals for the first time and will face Bushland (28-2) at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Vernon for a spot in the championship match, which is 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland. East Bernard (25-4) and Goliad (28-3) will square off in the other semifinal.
“What we said at the very beginning of the year, there was going to be a lot of noise outside of the team,” Gill said. “We’ve just got to focus on us and taking it a day at a time has gotten us here.”
For seniors Nyah Ingram, Lakin Satre, Bethany Gilbreath, Kinzee Hamilton and Childers, it is the culmination for a group that has had so much success — a 124-43 record and on the verge of a third straight 30-win season with a title in sight.
“It’s a really great feeling. I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else,” Ingram said. “I think all five of us seniors, we’re so locked in on this is our last chance.”
Rayanna Mauldin led with 12 kills, Shae Pruiett had 11 kills, Hanna Rubis added 10 kills, Gilbreath chipped in eight kills, Childers handed out 45 assists and Ingram collected 21 digs for the Lady Tigers.
“We have so much depth; it’s really nice as a setter to have so many options,” Childers said. “Everybody plays a role. Everybody plays their part.”
It was the fourth time in five playoff matches that Gunter won in a sweep.
Harmony (22-4), which had a 14-match winning streak snapped, was playing in the region final for the first time since 2007 — also the last time the program reached the final four.
Gunter had an 8-1 start in a 15-2 run during Game 1 that turned a close contest into a runaway. The Lady Eagles battled back from an early deficit and held a 6-4 lead. Then the Lady Tigers went on their surge with Pruiett leading the stretch.
Her consecutive kills gave Gunter a 19-8 advantage and the Lady Tigers were well on their way to the 1-0 lead.
In Game 2, the Lady Eagles only led for a point at 4-3. Gunter was up the rest of the way but had to fend off Harmony at times. It was down to an 11-10 margin before Pruiett and Gilbreath helped pump the lead back up to 18-13.
The Lady Eagles responded with three straight points before a Gilbreath kill and a Miranda Putnicki block doubled the margin.
Harmony made one last push to get within 21-19 and then Mauldin put down three straight kills and Putnicki finished off the frame by slamming home a 50-50 ball.
If there were any bad memories of what Van Alstyne did to beat Gunter in the region final last season, they would have started to appear when Harmony trailed in Game 3, at multiple points by four, before Jenci Seahorn’s ace put the Lady Eagles in front for the first time at 16-15.
A quick timeout followed.
“In the huddle you don’t talk it up. But they knew,” Gill said. “They processed it. These games aren’t going to be given to them. They had to go and take it. The way we’ve talked about it and reframed it was ‘we’re here to make history.’”
The Lady Tigers answered with a 5-1 burst to reclaim control. Harmony was down 20-19 after a Gunter error and 22-20 on a kill by Lillie Jones but this time there was no stopping the Lady Tigers from finishing off the sweep.
Class 3A Region II