PLYMOUTH — Thursday’s Northern Lakes Conference match between Warsaw and Plymouth wasn’t necessarily for the conference championship, but it will likely go a long way toward deciding it.
Plymouth’s lineup dug in during a back-and-forth match between NLC unbeatens on the Lady Pilgrims’ home court at The Rock, clinching a big win over the visiting Tigers in four, nip-tuck sets, 25-23, 19-25, 25-22, 25-20. The Pilgrims remain the last team without a loss in the league at 4-0, while Warsaw dips to 3-1 in the conference with the disappointing result.
“Before the game we said ‘This isn’t the end-all to the season, but it goes a long way toward conference. It’s us and Warsaw right now. That’s all you’ve got to think — it’s down to us two,’” said Plymouth coach Derek Eveland.
“Who knows? We’ve been in this position. A couple years ago we were in this position and ended up losing two at the end of the year to finish 5-2 in the conference. So we’ll see. Better to be here than 0-4 or 3-1 right now. I’ll take it. It’s a good win.”
“This loss probably cost us the conference,” a frustrated Warsaw coach Rick Ashmore said simply after the match.
The first game saw the NLC rivals tied up 10 different times as both battled to grab the early momentum, the last time at 23-23. But a pair of late mistakes by the Tigers on the last two points, including a centerline violation on the final point, gave the home team the early advantage.
Warsaw battled back in the second set, however, benefitting from a run of four straight points midway through the game to get some separation from their hosts and using a pair of hard spikes by sophomore middle hitter Betty Barnett to close out the most lopsided set of the night, 25-19 and tie the match at a game apiece.
The Tigers rode that second-game momentum to an early 7-3 advantage in game three — their biggest lead of the night — but the Pilgrims chipped away to eventually tie it up at 22-all, ultimately closing it out at 25-23 with a hard kill by junior middle hitter Alaina Clady to go up two games to one.
Even when his team was trailing late in that game, Eveland never really worried.
“I was worried about game three but not worried in the overall because I thought if they did take game three, we’re going to come back and beat them in four, play them five, and who knows? But I said ‘Let’s see what we can do here and come back on them in game three because that will add momentum in game four, win or lose.’ They dug in,” he explained. “I only have two seniors, but these juniors have been at it for awhile, I’ve got some talented younger kids, and they dug in. They worked their butts off tonight.”
With their backs to the wall, the Tigers trailed through much of the third set but did give themselves a chance with a 10-2 run midway through the game and were out front as late as 17-16. But a controversial call on a Warsaw attack that either caromed out of bounds off a pair of Plymouth blockers or didn’t depending on which side of the stands you were sitting tied it up at 17-17, and the Tigers never led again.
Ashmore was given a warning by the first referee following the call that knotted the final set up at 17s, but it wasn’t the first time the Warsaw boss took issue with the line officiating at Thursday’s seesaw match.
“I asked them in the first set to replace the line judges because they weren’t paying attention. How many times did we have balls go off blockers — on both teams — that they didn’t catch?” he asked.
Given the back-and-forth nature of the match, a few controversial calls here and there made a big difference, but Ashmore said his players shouldn’t ever have been in a position for that to be the case.
“You can’t let things get that close. We allowed it to get that close,” he said.
“We shouldn’t have gotten ourselves in that position. We needed to assert ourselves, get ourselves where calls like that wouldn’t bother us, and we did not do that today.”
Senior setter Kacy Bragg did some of everything for the Tigers, finishing the night with a prolific 40 assists, as well as three aces and seven kills, many of them coming off some savvy, out-of-rhythm tips by the Warsaw captain.
“She’s a three-year starter, runs the team very well,” said Ashmore.
Barnett led her team at the net with 16 kills and four blocks, meanwhile, and the high energy sophomore gave her team an emotional lift throughout the night.
“Always plays really, really well, and she brings a lot to the court for us. We needed to get the ball to her a little bit more,” Ashmore said.
Libero Kylie Smith added 15 digs, fellow frosh Cora West dug up nine balls, and sophomore middle hitter Kennedy Lauck added nine kills for Warsaw, which dropped to 13-4 overall.
Plymouth got a balanced attacking effort led by senior Sadie Bastardo’s 15 kills, followed by Cassidy Holiday’s seven and Alaina Clady’s six, meanwhile.
“They’re a very balanced team. You watch us some nights, and you’re going to see Mercedes Bastardo dominate. She didn’t dominate tonight. She had her spurts, but we were very balanced,” Eveland said. “We don’t have a weak front row hitting spot. We can go middle. We can go right side. Our strength is our outside, obviously, but we’re balanced and we showed that tonight.”
Clady, Clare Sheedy and Chloe Holten led their team defensively at the net with four blocks each as the Pilgrims gradually adjusted to Warsaw’s attacking game after matches with Marian and Rochester, while Sheedy passed out 16 assists, followed by Avery Christy’s 13, Kenzie Snyder tallied 13 digs, Christy finished with 12, and Miranda German recorded nine. Sheedy and German also served up a pair of aces apiece for Plymouth, which moved to 13-5 overall.
Also Thursday, Warsaw’s JV topped Plymouth two games to one, and the Tigers freshman team topped their Plymouth counterparts, 25-9, 25-10.
Warsaw will play at the Michigan City Varsity Tournament Saturday and will travel to Fort Wayne Carrol Tuesday before resuming NLC play at Wawasee Thursday. Plymouth will host a tourney over the weekend before playing Knox Monday, followed by another big NLC match-up with Memorial at home Tuesday. The Chargers have just one NLC loss to Warsaw, and will be looking to spoil the Pilgrims’ NLC championship bid, which would lock them in a tie with Plymouth and Warsaw at the top of the league standings.
“We’ll kind of take a relaxed attitude for the tournament over the weekend and then we’ll try to get refocused on Monday at Knox, we’ll work on a lot of stuff mental-wise, and then we’ll be ready to go against Memorial,” said Eveland.