WALNUT – Both Hickory Flat and Walnut entered Tuesday night's division finale with a 6-0 record in Class 1-Region 2 play. Earlier in the season, the Lady Rebels swept Walnut 3-0 in a non-division match and they were close to doing it again on Tuesday, taking a 2-0 lead. But the Lady Wildcats roared back from two sets down, taking the final three sets to claim their first division championship in school history.
Walnut defeated Hickory Flat 3-2 (19-25, 20-25, 25-14, 25-21, 15-11).
“Well, things didn't go our way,” said Hickory Flat head coach Jamie Hayles. “Credit Walnut. I thought they played really hard all night and did some good things. But we have to learn how to finish games. When you get up on a team 2-0, especially against good teams, you have to finish it or else something like this can happen.”
Hickory Flat won the first set 25-19 behind an impressive opening set from Emma Wilson. Wilson tallied two service aces and four kills, most coming in a 9-3 run to close out the first set. In the second set, as the two teams were tied at 19-19, Wilson and Erin Hancock connected on back-to-back kills, sparking a 4-0 run to take control of the game.
The third set is where the momentum shifted in the Lady Wildcats' favor. Walnut junior Claire Leak dominated the third set with one service ace and seven kills in the third set along to lift the Lady Wildcats to a commanding 25-14 win.
That momentum carried over into the fourth set when Walnut scored the game's first six points. Hickory Flat battled back to take the lead at 17-16 with a 6-0 run, including five Walnut attacking errors and an Abby Tatum ace. Later, tied at 21-21, Leak pitched in back-to-back aces and Sarah Martindale added back-to-back kills to close the fourth set on a 5-0 run, winning the set 25-21.
In the fifth and final set, Walnut jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back. The Lady Rebels got as close as one point of the lead and late in the set, had fought back to make the score 13-11 before Walnut's Madi Kate Vuncannon ended the match with a kill and a block to secure her team the championship.
“We just made too many mistakes to win tonight,” claimed Hayles. “Hopefully we use this as motivation to get better before the playoffs start.”
Despite the loss, the Lady Rebels still will compete in the Class 1 Playoffs. The No. 2 seed Lady Rebels will travel to Alcorn Central on Thursday, Oct. 17 for their first round matchup. The Lady Bears are 23-9 on the season and won the Class 1-Region 1 championship with an undefeated record.