Brock Netter, Contributor
WAVERLY — Even though Waverly and Jackson met in the regular season with the Tigers winning in straight sets, tournament play is completely different.
The desperation factor is much higher and the thought of possibly playing the last game of the season creeps in.
But after the dust settled Wednesday night, Waverly still marched right along. The Tigers (20-3) battled through rough stretches and stayed the course to score another straight set victory over the Ironladies by a 25-17, 26-24, 25-14 score in a Division II sectional semifinal.
“We knew Jackson would be prepared because it’s tournament time, so they would come out and give it their best effort,” Waverly junior hitter Carli Knight said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy win, even if we have beat them before. They came out strong like we anticipated they would, but we just came out stronger and got the win.”
Jackson (12-9) started out as the aggressor, jumping out to a 7-5 lead before Knight answered with a pair of kills and a block to help tie the game 8-8. That short spree grew to a 7-0 run that furthered the lead to 12-8.
The Ironladies continued to battle back, cutting five-point deficits down to two on two different occasions. But the Tigers were too much to handle as they ended on a 6-0 run with kills from Knight and Kelli Stewart to take the first set.
“I stay pretty focused and determined every game, but once it’s tournament time, I make sure I put all my effort on the line … not just for myself but for the team and the seniors,” Knight said. “These last three years, I’ve been blessed with an amazing setter [Hailie Silcott] and she’ll do whatever she can to get me the ball. So I will do everything for her in return. I didn’t feel that effective in the front row tonight because they did stop me some, so I made sure to put all the effort I could in the back row.”
While Waverly’s focus was on limiting Jackson’s Abbey Munn at the net, Holly Sexton stepped up for the Ironladies.
With a series of kills and blocks throughout the second set, the senior hitter powered them to leads of 13-11 and 17-13 before a Kloe Zink kill, followed by a Jorja Bapst ace, forced Wavelry to call timeout trailing 20-15.
The Tigers immediately countered back with four straight points and later tied the set at 22, 23 and 24. They took the lead back at 25-24 and Knight finished the deal with a thunderous kill to close out the set.
“During the timeout we discussed that we had to fight for 10 more points and give it everything we got or end up having to go to a fourth or fifth set,” Knight said. “We didn’t want to have to stress about that and we wanted to make the second set ours. That’s what we did when we came out with heart and determination.”
That second set loss was a hard punch in the gut to Jackson, and Waverly went for the knockout blow. Leading 9-8, the Tigers pieced together a 9-0 run, pushing their lead to 18-8 before ultimately pounding the final nail in Jackson’s season.
Knight led the Tigers with 13 kills and 28 digs, Sarah Thompson added 10 kills, Annie Silcott finished with nine kills and 10 digs, and Hailie Silcott ended the night with 19 digs and 31 assists.
The win allows Waverly to advance to play at No. 2 seeded Gallia Academy, who won in straight sets over Athens Wednesday, in a Division II sectional final on Saturday.
“I love this game and I don’t want it to end, so personally I’ll do anything and everything I can to help the team,” Knight said. “I know we can pull out this victory if we are all focused and are all in. I’ve seen us improve so much over this season and I think we have a great chance to put up a fight with Gallia. I won’t go down without putting up a fight and I know my girls won’t either. I definitely will miss the seniors, so we’ll play every set as hard as possible just to keep their high school season going. I’m excited for Saturday and can’t wait to see the outcome.”