Panthers’ title bid comes up short

Members of Pelham's volleyball team pose with the runner-up trophy after finishing second in the AHSAA Class 6A state volleyball final. (Reporter Photo/Drew Granthum)

Members of Pelham’s volleyball team pose with the runner-up trophy after finishing second in the AHSAA Class 6A state volleyball final. (Reporter Photo/Drew Granthum)

By DREW GRANTHUM/Sports Editor

BIRMINGHAM — The Pelham Panthers knocked on the door of a AHSAA Class 6A state volleyball championship, squaring off with Area 8 rival John Carroll in the title match on Oct. 30 for the sixth time this season.

Despite a valiant effort, the door never opened for the Panthers, as the Cavaliers took the state title with a 3-0 win.

The contest was a rematch of the Area 8 tournament championship, which Pelham won to give the Panthers a 3-2 season advantage on the Cavaliers. Pelham advanced to the title match by sweeping Muscle Shoals in the firs round, and outlasting Arab High in an absolute shootout in the semifinals for a 3-2 win.

The final match opened with a strong showing for the Panthers, who used the service game of Josie Harwood to open a 5-1 lead on JCCHS. The Cavaliers then posted a 4-0 run to tie the contest, but Pelham regained the lead at 7-6.

John Carroll began to whittle away at the Pelham defense, gaining the upper hand at 9-8. Pelham closed the gap at 10-9, but John Carroll went on a 5-0 run to open up  15-9 lead.

Trailing 19-15, a kill by Harwood seemed to inject new life into the Panthers, and a 2-0 service run by Hayley Brisendine pulled the squad within two. Pelham had one more chance to make a grasp at the lead when Erin Hines registered a kill to make it 22-20 John Carroll, but the Cavaliers held on for the 25-21 lead.

The Panthers fell behind 5-1 early in set two, with John Carroll eventually opening up a 12-4 lead. The Panthers never recovered, and the Panthers took the second set, 25-12.
Down 2-0 and facing elimination, the Panthers came out swinging. Pelham took a 1-0 lead to open before John Carroll countered with a 5-1 run to take the lead. Pelham worked its way back into the contest, cutting the lead to a single point at 7-6 on a Sarah Sudd service run.

The Cavaliers answered with another 5-0 run, extending their lead to 11-6. The Panthers then used a service run by Autumn Hiett to close the gap to 11-8, but once again, John Carroll slipped out to a four-point lead.

Down 15-11, Pelham again worked its way back into the contest, closing the gap to 16-15 and poised to take the lead. After a brief scoring run by JCCHS, a Hiett kill closed the lead to two points and appeared to give Pelham going forward as the Panthers scored again to make it 18-17 in favor of John Carroll.

Unfortunately for Pelham, it was as close as the squad got, as John Carroll hung on for the 24-19 win.

“John Carroll played great, we played not great,” Pelham head coach Perry Robinson said. “They were everywhere. We just couldn’t score well.  (Our) hat’s off to them.”
Despite the loss, Robinson said he was proud of his team’s effort, and said the team “had a fantastic season,” noting that only two teams made it as far his did.

“To win it, you’ve got to be in it,” he said.

Hines finished with 13 kills, while Emily Jackson had 27 assists and Brisendine had 18 digs. The Panthers finished their season 41-17, as Hines and Hiett made the All-Tournament team.