Lady Falcons even the score

EAST BEND — Surry Central has been banging on the door of the Western Piedmont 2A throne room all season long. On Tuesday, they found out the current occupants won’t give it up without a fight.

The WPAC’s top two volleyball teams clashed for the second time this season, with the visiting Lady Golden Eagles looking to take the driver’s seat in the championship race with a win at Forbush. However, the defending league champs evened the season series with an emphatic 25-18, 25-18, 25-23 victory.

“I thought our offense and defense were both strong tonight,” said Forbush head coach Ginger Hamric. “We were ready for them.

“Now we’re going to try to finish strong. We’ve still got to go to West Stokes.”

Forbush (12-8, 9-1 WPAC) and Central (15-5, 10-1) are tied for first place in the loss column, a game ahead of West Stokes (15-3, 7-2), pending the Lady Cats’ result with North Surry on Tuesday. However, both teams have work to do before a possible rubber match in the conference tournament. Each team faces West Stokes again, and the Lady Eagles also have to visit North Surry, which actually held a match point against Forbush last week before the Lady Falcons escaped with a five-set win.

Everything hinged on Tuesday’s result. Had Surry Central won, it would have been virtually assured of no worse than a conference co-championship even if the Lady Eagles played poorly down the stretch. For a Forbush team that lost some major contributors from last year’s WPAC champions but has steadily improved throughout the season, this was do-or-die to keep the league race alive.

And the Lady Falcons had some help.

“It’s a small gym, a lot of loud fans, and they’ve got everything on their side when they play at home,” said Surry Central head coach Brittany Tolbert.

Anytime Forbush got into any trouble, they had the backing of a large and vocal crowd to give them a lift, something that Tolbert cited and Hamric didn’t dispute.

“This is wonderful,” said Hamric, who returned to high school coaching this year after 29 seasons as head coach of Catawba College. “Everybody is just so good to us here. Being from Yadkin County, it’s nice to be at home and play at home.”

Central brought a strong contingent of its own fans, but there was no questioning that the Falcons’ gym was something of a snakepit on Tuesday night.

The match opened with Salem Finney earning the first point on a block, an ominous sign for Central. Finney, a junior who plays right-side hitter for the Lady Falcons, is the Forbush side-attacker you’d rather have to face. Not because she’s bad, but because the left-side hitter is Division I recruit Parkley Hennings. Central’s Mia McMillen answered the block with a brilliant bump-hit that found the back-left corner on the Forbush end, but then the home team went on a tear, ripping off six straight points, including two thunderous kills from Hennings. Tolbert called time-out down 7-1 and setter Madison Goins earned a side-out with an on-two play, but Central could never quite catch up.

McMillen served three consecutive aces to make the score 7-5, but was long on her next one and then Forbush got rolling again, winning eight of the next 12 points including another block from Finney. Down 15-9, Tolbert played her last card and called for time again, and her team perked up, with Ashley Hall and Goins making outstanding plays and libero Abigail Johnson running all over the floor keeping balls alive. The Lady Eagles got withing a point at 16-15, but Forbush answered the bell. They won the serve back and Laiken Baity served an ace. Central’s Jordyn Coe scored a block on Hennings, but that just made her mad and she blasted one from the left side, then hit a winner to end a long rally. Forbush ended the set on a 5-0 run.

Surry Central led the second set 7-5, but after a side-out and an ace from Addison Harrell tied it, Forbush led for the rest of the set. Reagan Wooten scored a block, Finney had a kill off the left side and moments later, Hennings crushed two balls from the middle of the floor to spark another run. Central was struggling on the attack, and when the Lady Eagles did get the offense going, Sommer Gray, Baity and Hennings were covering the floor with alacrity and preventing Central from scoring consistently. After the Lady Falcons took a 13-8 lead, the visitors never got closer than four points again, and the set ended on an ace by Gray.

“I think we could have played better,” said Tolbert. “We have four hitters and none of them were on their game. None of our hitters were on and our block wasn’t there. We have some stuff we need to work on before Thursday.”

Central needed to win the third set in order to keep the match going, and the Lady Eagles won three of the first five points, including one where Johnson dove for a ball and kept it alive by her fingertips. However, the home team answered back, with Emily Webb serving an ace and Harrell making a block. Tolbert asked for time with her team down 8-6, and Central didn’t quit, fighting their way back into a tie. Finney and McMillen traded attacks and Central’s Jaylyn Templeton served an ace to put her team back on top. Hamric asked for time with her team down 15-13 and they won the next three to surge ahead, but then the Lady Eagles went up 18-17. Baity laid out a perfect set to Korbyn Brown for a tying kill, and then Forbush took the lead. Hennings and Finney hit the ball long and Central led by two.

It was 23-21 when Hennings stepped up and scored off the left side. Coe hit the ball long and the score was tied. Tolbert asked for time, but Hennings smashed another one for match point, and Forbush won it on the next point.

Central’s Lainey Smith (8) gets over the net to make the play as Forbush’s Addison Harrell and Emily Webb go for the block.

The Lady Falcons’ Parkley Hennings (13) was her usual dominating self against Surry Central, although the Lady Eagles’ Lainey Smith challenged her on this play.

A big factor in Forbush’s victory was outstanding play from junior Salem Finney, who has taken her game to a higher level as the season moved along. Here, she puts a ball past Central defenders Lainey Smith and Madison Goins.

Central libero Abigail Johnson did her best to keep the Lady Eagles in the match with brilliant floor play, but it wasn’t enough as her team struggled offensively on Tuesday.

The Lady Eagles’ Chelsey Atkins (1) runs to the net to make this return shot against Forbush.

Forbush’s Laiken Baity had an excellent outing setting the ball for her attackers in Forbush’s win over Surry Central.

Forbush sweeps Central as WPAC title race heats up

Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.

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