By Stephen Smoot
The Wildcats came into East Hardy last Thursday night fresh after earning a berth in the regional tournament, but ran into a powerful Cougar squad. Pendleton County has put in work and earned the rewards of their labor by elevating their team beyond Moorefield, but a victory over East Hardy remained elusive.
The Wildcats took the first point of the first set on a Cougar mistake, but then gave up the next three. A Baylee Beachler spike broke the short East Hardy run, but the home team countered with two scores to retake the lead. The Wildcats tied the game at four when Allie Cooper smashed a shot to the Cougar back line and took the lead on a Beachler ace.
East Hardy tied the game again, then saw the Wildcats put together a six to zero run. Hedrick had three blocks at the net to help her squad’s cause.
Much of the rest of the first set, the Cougars ground away at the visiting team’s lead. For a time, Pendleton County held them off, but they tied the game at 16 after a 10 to five run. Lizzie Alt finally put a pause to Cougar scoring with a block to make the score 19 to 17 in favor of East Hardy. Then the Cougars blocked the Wildcats from scoring again and took the set 25 to 17.
The upperclassman dominated East Hardy team relies on power, strength, and athleticism. They thrive on putting pressure on their opponents, knocking them back on their heels. The Wildcats employ this same dynamic, but struggled to assert themselves consistently against the experienced Cougars.
Just as in the first and third sets, Pendleton County scored first in the second. Just as in the first, East Hardy scored three to establish an early lead. Gabby DePue fired a shot to the back line to pull her team within one, but the Cougars scored the next four to take a 7 to 2 advantage.
For much of the set, East Hardy built their lead, taking a 20 to 11 lead. Pendleton County kept fighting, and tried to close the gap. Hedrick scored on two blocks, and Alt on a spike, but East Hardy held them off, winning the set 25 to 15.
In the third set, the Wildcats refused to fade. After a Cougar miscue, Beachler scored a block, followed by a block by her and DePue. Varner served an ace, followed by an Alt block and a Beachler spike to take a 6 to 0 advantage.
East Hardy then stormed ahead, scoring 16 of the next 19 points. DePue earned a spike and Brynlynn Waggy made a play to the middle during the Cougar run. The Wildcats then showed their claws and went on a nine to three run of their own. The serving of Breena Bowers and big plays from Hedrick brought them back into the set and they came within one at 19 to 18.
At that point, the Cougars retook control and won the set, the game, and the section.
It must be emphasized that Pendleton County never quit on the game at any point. The girls hustled as much as they have all year, sprinting after balls, dropping to their knees and diving flat out on the hard floor to keep plays alive. If effort alone won a game, they would have triumphed.
Sometimes a team can take pride in a win. The tough thing about sports is that sometimes even surpassing one’s best physical effort does not bring home the trophy.
But when a player and team gives their best effort, they should at least take pride in that, no matter the outcome.