By Stephen Smoot
Last Tuesday, Pendleton County took a giant step forward in pursuit of their state tournament dreams. That step was placed on the back of the Petersburg Vikings.
Petersburg defeated Pendleton County three games to two early in the season. When they met again in Franklin toward the end of the season, the Wildcats claimed the victory and showed clear improvement over the course of the season.
The first game saw an early tie at two with Baylee Beachler tapping the ball at the net effectively. Pendleton County then worked to steadily build a strong lead. Beachler’s serves extended the lead to 7-2, backed by spikes from Arianna Young and Kate Hedrick.
The Vikings continued to hang in for a time, keeping their deficit around five until the score was 12-7. Then Allie Cooper took over service and the Wildcats scored three straight with a spike by Beachler and a block by Lizzie Alt. Alt herself served superbly, fueling a four to nothing run including an ace. Gabrielle DePue also took an Alt set to deliver a spike. She came up big again with a spike and a block at the net to help her team close the first game 25-11.
Game two started almost as the first ended, with a powerful spike by DePue. The Petersburg game saw DePue deliver one of her most powerful games of the season. Petersburg, however, tightened their own play. They play a patient style, simply volleying and waiting for their opponent to make mistakes as opposed to attacking the net and running set plays.
They took a 6-5 advantage early in the second game, but a Hedrick spike tied the game. Young, then Cooper labored to build a lead through their serves, helping to extend the Wildcat lead to 12-7. Avery Townsend chipped in a spike and Cooper an ace during the run.
Shortly thereafter, Alt began her serve with her team enjoying a 14-10 advantage. She scored on an ace before the team turned the serve back over. DePue aimed a spike at the back corner to regain control, then Townsend served six straight in the middle of an 11-4 run that closed out the game. Four of the last five points came from plays by Young at the net.
In the third game, Petersburg took control early. In what could be called a “murphy’s law” game, anything bad that could happen did. Misplays played a role, but so did odd bounces and bad luck. Petersburg built a 16-8 lead before the Wildcats started nibbling away. The Vikings finished strong and won the game 25-13.
Petersburg regained momentum going into the fourth and final game, matching emotion and grit against the Wildcats’ skill. Additionally, the Wildcats lost Alt to injury for the rest of the game. For her team, very often Alt is, as was once said about baseball great Reggie Jackson, “the straw that stirs the drink.” The team relies on her experience and athleticism for precise sets.
Pendleton County fell behind early 3-2, but then went on a six to three run to build the lead to 10-6. Petersburg sailed back and closed to within 12-8, but a Carolyn Varner set of a Young spike returned control to the Wildcats.
The Wildcats, driven by Cooper’s serving and two more DePue spikes, seemed to grab control at 23-18. Petersburg then executed a 7-1 run to take the lead at 25-24. With any team needing a two-point advantage to win, both teams scrambled to take the victory. Fortunately, Pendleton County scored three straight to end the game and the match, qualifying the Wildcats for the regional tournament at Doddridge County in the process.
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