BELTON — The Belton Lady Tigers didn’t want to just eke their way into the playoffs.
Last season, they finished next to last in District 12-5A.
With a shot at not only making the playoffs Tuesday, but earning at least a tie for third place, the Lady Tigers went all-out.
Belton was down two games but rallied to beat the Harker Heights Lady Knights 15-25, 26-28, 25-21, 25-21, 15-12 at Belton High.
“As coaches we think we match up and can win in the first round either way,” said Lady Tigers coach Stacy Meyers. “For the kids it is huge. To come from where they were last year — way down at the bottom and prove they could do more than squeeze into the playoffs ... they wanted to end tied for third.
“It just meant a lot mentally to be here.”
Belton (25-13, 9-5 District 8-5A) plays either Cedar Hill or Mansfield, which are tied for first-place in 7-5A, in the bi-district round of the playoffs Tuesday.
Harker Heights’ playoff position, second in 8-5A, was not affected by the loss.
And it showed on the court.
“We never rest on our laurels against anybody, but what it comes down to is that they needed this game tonight and we didn’t,” said Lady Knights coach Chris Wiley. “We were already set. We came out and played and just let it go. They needed it a little bit more, so they wanted it a little bit more.”
The Lady Knights, who plays Midlothian next Tuesday at a site and time to be determined, started out strong with a kill from Caitlyn Young in Game 1.
Anjane Janda, who led Heights (35-6, 11-3) with 18 kills and added 14 digs, had a big block to put the Lady Knights up 7-2 and her sister and Young had back-to-back kills to extend the lead to 14-7. Anjane Janda then had a kill to all but finish off the match at 24-15.
“The first game I didn’t expect to play well because it was senior night and I knew they were going to come out rattled,” Meyers said.
Game 2 was much closer.
Belton went up 14-8 after kills by Brieanne Brown and Maggie Kramer and a big block from Monica Gonzalez, who led the Lady Tigers with nine blocks. Heights rallied, though, behind three blocks from Kathleen Janda, who had 15 kills and nine blocks, to take an 18-15 lead. Tied at 26, Belton had back-to-back errors to hand the Lady Knights the game.
But the close match got the Lady Tigers believing.
“After the first two games we realized we can play with them and beat them,” Brown said. “We just started playing like us. ... Generally, we have been a slow-starting team and we snapped out of it. We want this and have fought so hard to get here and we knew how hard we needed to fight.”
In both Game 3 and Game 4, the Lady Tigers relied on their defense to frustrate the Heights hitters.
The Lady Knights went up 9-5 in Game 3, only to see Belton rally back and win and then went up 10-5 in Game 4 only to see the same thing happen.
Down 18-15 in Game 4, Belton forced Heights into four straight errors and Savannah Frick came up with a huge block to put the Lady Tigers up 20-18 and eventually force a Game 5.
Once there, Heights again took the initial lead, 6-3, behind a a pair of kills from Anjane Janda.
However, Brown had three kills and Frick had a pair of kills as Belton ran off eight of the next nine point and rallied for the five-game win.
“A year ago, or even earlier this year, they would not have (kept fighting),” Meyers said. “This team would not have come down from two games down. They are just different kids.”
Contact Nick Talbot at email@example.com or (254) 501-7569