Baton Rouge High and McKinley opened district volleyball play with an exciting match at McKinley on Wednesday. The Bulldogs sputtered through the first two sets, then came back to win three in a row to run their record to 14-5, 1-0 in Division I, District 2.
Set scores were 17-25, 21-25, 25-22, 28-26 and 15-13.
McKinley fell to 2-10, 0-1 in losing another heartbreaker to a team ahead of the Panthers in the power ratings.
It may have seemed like just another point, but with BRHS down two sets and 11-8 in the third, Maria Morgan unleashed her first power kill of the match. Even though they fell further behind at 19-13, the Bulldogs began to play with more energy and confidence and behind the serving of Keyton Hall pulled within two at 20-18.
Four mishandled balls in a row by the Panthers put them behind by two, and kills by Loren James and Morgan gave the Bulldogs their first set.
“It took us a long time to warm up tonight,” Baton Rouge High coach Sheila Achee said. “I don’t know if it was the (Tara) tournament (which the Bulldogs won on Saturday), but it took a while to get going. They were so resilient. They just kept fighting and kept fighting and kept fighting.
“The first two sets we struggled, but they never gave up. That’s not the best we can play, but it got the job done.”
The fourth set was a disaster for the Panthers. Down 15-9, they put together a 10-0 run that included two aces by Rayven Mills and later had four set points for the match at 24-19.
The Bulldogs rallied as the Panthers tightened up, tied the set at 24, and went on to win 28-26 to force a fifth set.
Morgan and Sayle Sanson opened the final set with kills for Baton Rouge High and were matched by Chyanna McGee and Terrea Sims for the Panthers.
An ace by Hall and another kill by James led to an 8-4 lead for BRHS, which would lead 13-10 before a kill by Mills. A service fault brought the Bulldogs to set point, and they went on to a 15-13 win to take the match 3-2.
“We turned it around when we started playing as a team,” Morgan said. “We started communicating. We came together and said, ‘We can’t lose this game. It’s our first (district game), and it’s not going to be our last.’”
Morgan finished with 10 kills. Sameera Mohamed led the Bulldogs with 18 assists and 23 digs, and Sanson added two aces.
McKinley coach Brenda Simon said the match didn’t just slip away from her team.
“How about Christmas?” she said. “We were giving some gifts away. We missed some crucial serves. Then we started playing not to lose instead of playing to win. It was just choking. Plain simple choking.
“Give Baton Rouge High credit. They played lights out. We hit balls we thought we’d put away, and they would hit them back.”
The Panthers had balanced production, led by Mills and Sims with five kills each. Emily Eley had 27 assists, and Rebecca Smith and Jasmine Bekkaye each had 11 digs.