GATESVILLE — Rickey Phillips saw something in the eyes of his players no coach wants to see — defeat.
After taking the first two sets, Gatesville constructed an 11-4 advantage in the third and appeared to be poised for a sweep against visiting Brownwood. Then, complacency set in and the Lady Lions pounced on the opportunity to rally, claiming a stunning win to force a fourth set.
The Lady Hornets did not repeat the same mistake again, clinching the victory despite suffering a setback at the same time.
“In Game 3, I saw looks on (my players’) faces like we were losing,” Phillips said. “Even when we were up, and they would close the gap to four or five points, most of the kids had a look like we were beat already. (We) can’t do that.”
Third-set collapse aside, Phillips was pleased with his team’s overall play as it maintained sole possession of second place in District 8-3A with a 25-22, 25-16, 20-25, 25-18 victory.
Gatesville (20-15, 5-1) used early, one-sided runs to build advantages in each set, but at times, a lack of concentration allowed the Lady Lions to keep the score closer than it should have been, especially in the third set.
“I know we didn’t have our focus,” said junior middle blocker Kayla McGiboney, who finished with team-highs of 14 kills and six blocks. “I guess it was from winning the first two sets and (thinking) that we’ve got this, but we just completely lost our focus.
“That’s really dangerous because we can’t let teams come back and then decide we are going to play the best we can. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and you can’t get back up to where you were.”
The Lady Hornets opened the match with a 7-2 run and led 17-12 following junior Robin Galiano’s kill, but Brownwood worked its way back into the set, claiming a 22-21 lead on the heels of winning 10 of 14 points. Strong serving from setter Mikayla Heckmann, including a set-clinching kill, allowed Gatesville to take the first set as the junior recorded six aces in the win to go with 36 assists.
The momentum carried over as the Lady Hornets built a nine-point advantage, 18-9, before the Lady Lions (10-18, 2-4) whittled it down to four points at 20-16. Gatesville scored five unanswered points, though, to earn a 2-0 lead in the match.
Then, the Lady Hornets failed to complete the sweep.
“In the huddle before starting Game 3, I told them that when you’ve got them down like that, you have to finish them off,” Phillips said. “I assured the kids, they weren’t going to go away.”
Following a timeout-forcing kill by junior Brianna Poe to put Gatesville up 11-4 after trailing 2-0 to start the set, the Lady Lions began their comeback. After briefly alternating points, Brownwood won eight consecutive points to claim its first lead at 14-13 before closing the set with a 9-2 run.
“As a team, we lost our focus,” Heckmann said, echoing McGiboney’s sentiments regarding the third set. “We couldn’t get a play finished at the right time. When we have a lead, we have to stick with it, and we can’t give up runs like that.”
An almost identical situation presented itself in the fourth set as Gatesville jumped out to a 10-2 lead. This time, however, the Lady Hornets finished, but the third-set loss will haunt Phillips heading into Friday’s match at Burnet.
“Game 3 was kind of a downer to be honest,” he said. “We looked like the team from five weeks ago. That’s not what we are trying to go do, but (overall), I like where we are at. … But I understand, and the kids do too, we’ve got to keep getting better. No match is a gimme. Never.”
Contact Clay Whittington at email@example.com