Lady Tigers test Henderson County at the CAB

BRYCE RUDD Photo/ Times Leader

The Caldwell County Lady Tigers celebrate after a point during a win over Region 2 champion Henderson County on Thursday in Princeton.

It’s hard to defend a title, and even harder to do it a fourth straight time.

County (18-8), the three-time defending Region 2 champions, were in town on Thursday at the CAB to take on Caldwell County (18-10) in a matchup of the two top teams in Region 2.

Their last meeting? October 17, 2018, when the Lady Tigers season came to an end against the Lady Colonels deep in the Region 2 Tournament.

While Thursday night wasn’t the championship game, it was certainly a step in the right direction, as Caldwell County took a four-set win (25-19, 21-25, 25-20, 25-16) in front of a ruckus crowd, honoring Savanna Tays who recently recorded her 2000th set assist.

Henderson had won three straight and 11 of their last 12 coming into Thursday, but this is a different Lady Tiger team battling them now.

Savanna Tays finished with an astounding 34 set assists with five digs and four aces in the contest.

Olivia Mitchell did Olivia Mitchell-like things, with 11 digs, two aces and a team-high 20 kills.

Addi Perkins finished with six kills, Aid Sullenger had seven digs, Kendyll Prowell stuffed the stat sheet with 12 assists, six kills and nine digs, Abby Griggs had 11 kills and three blocks with three digs, Riley Thomas compiled four digs, Kyndra Winters added two digs and Mary Tays polished off seven kills with seven digs.

“To play Henderson in front of your home crowd in a place where you’re wanting to defend at all costs, I could not be more proud of the effort,” head coach Daniel Cortner said. “We worked yesterday on a very specific gameplay on how we were going to expose balls out of system. We were about 95 percent accurate on doing what we wanted to do out of system. Who can handle the pressure of a panic ball, and I never felt us truly panic on anything.”

Mary Tays had the hot hand early, serving up a 4-0 and 6-1 start in set one.

Henderson County had plenty of length, crawling back to within 10-7, but the Lady Tigers expanded their lead to six.

Henderson County wouldn’t get much closer, as Mitchell’s swat upped the lead to 21-14, and a bad serve helped Caldwell County take a 25-19 set one win.

Caldwell County jumped out to another lead in set two at 6-2, before another timely serve from Tays led to a bomb by Mitchell from the same left spot at 8-3.

Serving errors continues to plague Henderson a bit despite inching towards a tie, and Caldwell forced a timeout with a 14-6 advantage.

A give and go between Prowell and Mitchell gave the Lady Tigers their biggest lead of the evening at nine points 15-6, but Henderson answered with a 9-0 run to tie at 15-15.

Henderson County took their first lead later in the set and Caldwell never truly stopped the bleeding, as the Lady Colonels scored 16 of the next 18 overall points to take set two 25-21 on a set kill from their Libero.

Henderson County kept up their momentum with a 6-1 start to set three, but the Lady Tigers came back to tie it at 11-11 and force Henderson to talk things over.

Griggs serving finally allowed Caldwell to gain back some of their first-set footing as they went back up 17-13, and a huge momentum boost from a hustle play by Perkins seemed to change everything, and upped the lead to six as Caldwell went up 2-1 at 25-20. The Lady Tigers never looked back.

“I can take you back to almost every big win Caldwell has had in my career, and there has been a play when somebody has chased a ball down 25 or 30 feet,” Cortner said. ‘We had one against Apollo late in the fifth set. When we are here to out hustle you, that’s something Henderson has to worry about. It does infuse energy and for a senior to make that kind of a play at home agains tour rival, it shows what we’re willing to put on the line to go win a volleyball game.”

After overcoming an early deficit in the fourth, a block up front by Griggs gave Caldwell the lead midway through, and a Mitchell kill helped build some breathing room at 21-15. Caldwell scored five out of the next six points to wrap it up.

Lady Tigers take care of business at Hopkins County Central

Before Caldwell County’s anticipated showdown with Henderson County, the Lady Tigers also took care of business on the road Tuesday night at Hopkins County Central (8-12) in the 40th all-time meeting between the two clubs.

It’s no secret that the Lady Tigers have had no blemishes in the rivalry, with just one loss all-time back in October of 2013, and such was the case in a three-set sweep at Mortons Gap in a District 7 contest that seemed over after the first match.

Caldwell County (17-10 at the time) won 25-8, 25-7 and 25-12 as several players got playing time in this one.

Olivia Mitchell finished with 13 kills, five aces and a pair of digs, Abby Griggs polished off 10 kills with four digs and a block, Savanna Tays finished with a game-high 27 assists with three kills and three digs and Kendyll Prowell came up with a stuffed stat sheet of six assists, two kills, four aces and four digs.

Mary Tays contributed six aces with three kills and two digs, Adi Sullenger had eight digs, Kynady Thomas finished with two kills and Addi Perkins had three digs.

Lily Hoard also saw action with one kill and Kendra Winters came up with two digs and an ace.