Defending champ Pelham headed back to state tournament

Published 9:14 pm Thursday, October 25, 2018

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

MONTGOMERY – Pelham’s path to repeating as Class 6A volleyball state champions is off to a good start after the Panthers pulled off a combined 6-1 set record on the first day of super regionals on Thursday, Oct. 25, at Montgomery’s Crampton Bowl MultiPlex.

The Panthers pulled off an easy 3-0 sweep in the first round against Benjamin Russell, before earning a more challenging win against 11th ranked Gulf Shores by a final of 3-1 to advance to the state tournament on Wednesday, Oct. 31 in Birmingham.

Second round

Pelham was able to officially earn its spot back in Birmingham with a thrilling win against Gulf Shores, who challenged the Panthers throughout, but in the end it was the defending champs that were able to gain momentum out of a 1-1 tie to win by a score of 3-1 (25-14, 19-25, 25-17, 25-18).

The first set saw the Panthers in a hole early, falling behind Gulf Shores 9-6 at one point, but that awoke a fierce answer from Pelham, who then went on to close the set out with a 19-5 run to pull off an easy 25-14 first-set victory for a 1-0 lead in the match.

While Pelham pulled off the comeback in the first set, the Panthers were faced with a different challenge in the second set; playing from in front.

They jumped out to a strong 13-7 lead and seemingly had the set under control, but then, not only did Gulf Shores start playing better, but the Panthers had lost some of their luster.

The Dolphins responded with an 18-6 run from that point forward to close out the set with a 25-19 victory and tie the match at 1-1.

For the first 10 points of the third set, the two teams were deadlocked in a back-and-forth battle with neither team gaining much of an advantage, leading to a 10-10 tie.

That’s when Ashley Anderson stepped to the service line and continued an impressive day by winning several service games in a row to give the Panthers a 13-10 lead.

The Dolphins, however, battled back again to steal the lead away at 14-13.

Pelham was able to win the next point, which became pivotal as Sarah Guthrie stepped to the line, and like Anderson, continued a strong day of serving.

She helped the Panthers roll off another run, this time a 5-0 run, which helped completely turn the momentum of the set in Pelham’s favor. The Panthers lost the next point but went on to finish off what started as a 5-0 run by turning it into a 12-3 run to end the set, as they pulled off an important 25-17 victory to take the match lead back at 2-1.

Pelham capitalized on that momentum and never trailed again.

The fourth set was tightly contested most of the way with Pelham leading most of the way, but the Dolphins weren’t letting their season end without a fight and tied it late at 16-16.

From that point forward, it was all Panthers, as they went on a 8-1 run to take a 24-17 lead.

Gulf Shores salvaged one more point to make it 24-18, but a service error on the ensuing serve led to screaming and jumping from the Pelham players and fans as the Panthers picked up the 25-18 set win and 3-1 match victory to earn a spot back in the state tournament.

Pelham will now travel to the Birmingham CrossPlex on Wednesday, Oct. 31, to look to defend their state championship, as they’re now just three wins away from doing so.

First round

The Panthers got their playoff run started with an easy 3-0 (25-11, 25-16, 25-12) sweep against Benjamin Russell in the first round of regionals.

Both teams got off to an impressive start in the first set, but Pelham eventually showed why it is the No. 3 team in the state and the defending champion thanks to strong service games from two different players.

It started with Anderson, who led the Panthers on a 9-0 run to put her team in front 16-7.

That was followed quickly by a strong service game from Guthrie, who played well in multiple facets of the game. She helped Pelham reel off a 6-0 run to extend the Panthers’ lead to 23-8.

The Wildcats added three more points, but went on to drop the set shortly after, as Pelham closed out a 25-11 set win for a 1-0 advantage in the match.

Pelham used that to its advantage in the second set and jumped all over Benjamin Russell with a 12-4 run out of the gate. The Wildcats came back to cut the deficit to as little as five points, but Pelham responded with a 5-0 run to end the set with a 25-16 victory and 2-0 lead.

Like a broken record, the third set followed suit as the Panthers leaped out to a dominant 18-5 lead.

Pelham never let the Wildcats get within nine points the rest of the way, as the Panthers pulled out a 25-12 win in the set to claim a 3-0 victory and advance.

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