Pelham takes down Briarwood in straight sets

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

PELHAM – The Pelham Panthers got off to a strong start to the 2019 season by splitting an opening-night tri-match on Thursday, Aug. 22, and a few days later on Tuesday, Aug. 27, the Panthers continued the impressive start to the season with their second straight-set victory of the season.

Thanks to a great final two sets of clutch play, Pelham took down the Briarwood Lions in front of the home crowd by a final score of 3-0 winning the first set 25-14 and the final two sets 25-22.

In their opening-night split, the Panthers lost a heartbreaker to Class 7A No. 9 Vestavia Hills 2-1 and beat Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in straight sets giving them confidence early in the season that they could compete with and beat anybody.

Leading into Pelham’s first solo best-of-five matchup with county-foe Briarwood, that paid dividends.

Coming into the match, the Lions had gotten off to a slow start with a 1-4 record at their Briarwood Serve-Off Tournament, but had also taken on some tough competition in the process, and it didn’t get any easier against the Panthers.

Particularly in the first set, Pelham made life difficult for BCS thanks to a fast start and a late run.

The Panthers used strong play at the net and great service games from several to gain the lead, and then put the set away with a strong finish that led to a 25-14 victory to start the night.

While it has been a tough season for the Lions to this point, you could see a sense of fight in them from that point forward the rest of the match.

Pelham still held an advantage throughout the second set, but the Lions were right on the Panthers’ tail in striking distance of pulling off the set thanks to a late run.

But at 24-22, Pelham was able to close out set point for a 25-22 second-set victory to take a 2-0 match lead.

With that, Briarwood was put in a situation of having to win three consecutive sets in order to pull out the match victory, which put the Lions in a deep hole, but they didn’t think about the uphill battle and still came out ready to compete in the third set.

While you may normally see a team come out dejected down 2-0, Briarwood hung with Pelham throughout the set yet again.

In a tightly-contested set, however, the Panthers proved why they are one of the best teams in Class 6A thanks to making plays in the clutch late to pull out the set victory in identical fashion. Up 24-22, Pelham took match point to complete the 3-0 (25-14, 25-22, 25-22) victory.

Pelham was led by Erin Long with an impressive 13 kills in the match, while junior Elizabeth Hayhurst added nine kills of her own. Ariana Smith, also a junior, led the team with four aces, while senior Ashley Anderson added three.

In a balanced effort, sophomore Tammy Melendez led the team with 17 digs. In all, five different players had at least five digs in the match, including nine from Anderson and eight from Long. Anderson also led the team with 26 assists in the match.

The Panthers improved to 2-1 on the season with the win, while Briarwood is now 1-5.