Oak Mountain wins tight battle of top 10 teams over Thompson

Published 10:29 am Thursday, October 5, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – The Oak Mountain Eagles and Thompson Warriors both entered Tuesday, Oct. 3’s matchup ready for a fight, and the matchup of top 10 teams delivered.

In the end, the Eagles earned a 3-1 statement win at home over their county foes as they continue their preparation for the playoffs.

“They just know they can do it,” Oak Mountain coach Grace Burgess said. “They have confidence in each other, in themselves, so even when they’re faced with pressure, they just know that they can pull it out, and I think that’s big. I’m not sure that we’ve ever had that before from all six players on the floor, and then our whole bench, too. They’re just fully locked in and ready to do it.”

The teams fought out a close start to the match, but Oak Mountain remained in the lead and in control, which eventually led to Thompson calling a timeout when the Eagles led 13-9.

The Eagles pulled away in the middle stretch of the match as they took four of the next five points out of the timeout to take a seven-point lead.

Thompson pulled within four as Oak Mountain led 23-19, and the Warriors won a pair of points after a timeout to draw within striking distance of a first set win. However, Oak Mountain recovered from losing the serve to win set point and take the opening set, 25-22.

The second set was even tighter than the first set, as a deadlocked opening stretch gave way to Oak Mountain establishing a three-point lead into a Thompson timeout. Thompson later took four consecutive points to take a 17-15 lead and forced the Eagles to regroup.

Oak Mountain briefly reclaimed the lead after winning four straight points out of the timeout, but the Warriors took it back and closed the set with an Ella Southern kill to win the set, 25-23.

With the match now tied and hanging in the balance, both teams went into the third set fully aware of the stakes and ready for a fight. After Oak Mountain tried to establish control early with a 4-1 lead, Thompson tied up the set and kicked off a back-and-forth deadlock.

The Eagles then won three straight points to take a 10-7 lead and force a Thompson timeout. Oak Mountain briefly maintained that gap before growing it to a ten-point lead, controlling the set, 24-14, going into set point.

A Madelaine Baxley kill allowed Thompson to draw closer, but the Warriors three-point run ended on a service error and allowed Oak Mountain to take the set, 25-17.

The Eagles and Warriors both had their moments throughout the fourth set as both teams exchanged runs. Oak Mountain got out to a 7-3 lead, but Thompson quickly drew within one.

A Mabrey Whitehead kill on the next point pushed Oak Mountain towards an 11-6 lead. Thompson pulled closer again shortly after and only trailed 15-14 after a Savannah Young ace. Oak Mountain would then establish its most dominant lead of the set and go up 22-16.

With the Eagles now three points away from a match win, the Warriors refused to go away quietly. Thompson won a pair of points, and after trailing 24-20 on match point, the Warriors won three straight points, including a block from Southern and Terrin Haynes and a kill by Chloe Mittelstadt, to cut the deficit to 24-23.

However, the Eagles held off the Warriors and took match point to avoid extra points, winning the set, 25-23, and the match, 3-1.

Whitehead led the Eagles with 18 kills while also earning 14 digs, three blocks and two aces. She had a hitting percentage of +.382 and a serve receive rating of 2.12.

Lauren Schuessler led in digs with 22, and she also had 14 kills, 17 assists, four blocks and two aces. Schuessler hit for +.263 and had a serve receive rating of 2.50.

Ava Heath also had an impressive showing of 10 kills and eight digs while earning a 2.11 serve receive rating.

With Whitehead, Schuessler and Heath all earning a serve receive rating over 2.0, Burgess said that was the difference in the match.

“Our serve receive passing as a team that match was better than it’s been in a while,” Burgess said. “We had a lot of kids step up and pass better tonight, and that calmed our offense down a little bit.”

Oak Mountain will continue its preparation for the area tournament with a road trip to Auburn on Thursday, Oct. 5. After Thompson’s 3-0 win over Jasper on Wednesday, Oct. 4, the Warriors will wrap up their stretch of three games in three days with Senior Night against Sparkman on Thursday, Oct. 5.

“Moving forward, we’re not going to play anybody that’s not good,” Burgess said. “Everybody that we’re playing from here on out is a state contender. And there’s nothing we want to do more.”