Party in the Park: Spain Park wins area tournament in instant classic over Oak Mountain

Published 11:45 am Friday, October 20, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – The time may have read 10:20 p.m., but the Spain Park Jaguars and Oak Mountain Eagles battled like it was still early in the day as the teams engaged in a five-set thriller in the finals of the Class 7A, Area 6 tournament on Thursday, Oct. 19.

After the Jags and Eagles threw their best shots, Spain Park landed the final knockout punch to take the championship with a 3-2 win and seal the top seed in regionals.

“It was a full team effort, and they bought in to the game plan,” Spain Park coach Kellye Bowen said. “The coaching staff is amazing that we have. When you have adversity throughout the season, it comes up in big matches like right here.

Early in the first set, the teams exchanged blows as they defended the serve well and took advantage of errors. After a 10-10 tie, Spain Park took four straight points with Cailyn Kyes on the serve to send the match to a timeout.

The Jags quickly won the serve back after every Oak Mountain response down the stretch. The Eagles took three straight points thanks to strong net play, but the Jags then took an ace on set point to cap off a 25-19 first set win with three straight points won.

After the Eagles and Jags both went on runs to open the second set, Spain Park looked like it had taken control of the set with an 18-12 lead. The Eagles then drew within two thanks to great plays like a Jenna Burson solo block and a no-look kill from Lauren Schuessler.

A Ja’Niyah Mosley kill kicked off another back-and-forth stretch as both teams won back the serve quickly. Spain Park had a 23-21 lead going into the final points, but Oak Mountain surged back to win four straight points capped off by kills from Mabrey Whitehead and Schuessler to give the Eagles a 25-23 second set win.

With the match now tied, Spain Park retook the momentum as it pulled away in the middle of the set. The Jags rode strong digs from its defense, including a pancake, and a great service game with aces from Bea Wiggins and Megan Ingersoll to establish a lead that Oak Mountain couldn’t recover from.

Spain Park won the third set, 25-18, off a Reagan Gilbert ace, to retake a 2-1 lead in the match.

Oak Mountain responded well in the fourth set as it took a 7-2 lead to open the set. Spain Park kept the set close thanks to great plays by Ingersoll and others, but the Eagles had a big momentum swing capped off by a team block into a Jags timeout.

With the match entering the 10 p.m. hour, a brief delay due to some gym lights automatically shutting off could have killed the Eagles momentum, but they kept the pressure on and took a 23-10 lead. Oak Mountain finished off the set with a 25-16 win to send the match into a fifth and final set.

With the area title hanging in the balance, Spain Park seized command of the lead. A pair of Oak Mountain errors led to three straight Jags points. Spain Park triggered two Eagles timeouts as they went up 7-4 and then 10-5.

Oak Mountain then responded with a pair of points and then drew even closer off a pair of miscues from Spain Park. After an Oak Mountain block and an Ava Heath ace, the Eagles and Jags were tied at 12.

As the Eagles threatened to win the match, an Ingersoll kill and Mae Elliott ace set up the Jags on match point, and Spain Park took its third straight point to win the area title on a 15-12 final set win.

After the team celebrated its title win, Bowen was proud of her team for not letting up after the Chelsea game and responding to the challenges that a top team like Oak Mountain presented.

“Right now, they figured out that they can play with anyone, and I think that it’s a confidence builder with all of them,” Bowen said. “I’m so proud of them. I’m in awe of them, to be honest.”

Before they even reached the championship match, the Jags had to down Chelsea in the semifinals. After a tight opening stretch, Spain Park jumped out to a 10-3 run that gave it control of the set. The Jags then won the final three points to take the first set, 25-14.

Spain Park and Chelsea had an even closer battle in the second set as the teams traded 20 straight points to tie up the set at 20. With the Hornets up 23-22 and looking to even up the match, Spain Park won three straight points to end the set and win, 25-23.

The Jags then fell behind to Chelsea at multiple points in the third set, including on a 5-0 run that gave the Hornets a 19-16 lead. However, Spain Park responded to everything that Chelsea threw its way, and it won the set, 25-23, to take the match in a 3-0 sweep and advance to regionals.

Spain Park will face James Clemens in the North Regional tournament in Huntsville on Thursday, Oct. 26 at 11:30 a.m., while Oak Mountain will face the top team in the state, Bob Jones, on the same day at 12:45 p.m.