SALADO — Jenna Franz wasn’t afraid of mighty Lexington.
“We knew coming into this that they were a good team and we had to fight, and all year we’ve psyched ourselves out against good teams,” Franz said of Lexington. “But we knew we had nothing to lose since we’re in the playoff run ... so we came out and fought as hard as we could.”
Yet, despite literally laying their bodies on the line in a back-and-forth effort through the first two games, 10th-ranked Lexington asserted its dominance and pushed host Salado on the verge of playoff elimination with a 25-20, 25-21, 25-8 sweep Tuesday.
“I’ll be honest, Game 1 and Game 2 were some of the best volleyball we’ve played all year as a team,” said Salado coach Rachel Lee. “And I was excited about that.”
Despite the loss, Salado (18-17, 7-5 22-2A) remains in fourth place with two games remaining against district runner-up Rogers and Florence. If the Lady Eagles are to extend their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to six, they need to win out and hope for either Rogers or Jarrell, both tied for second at 8-3 entering Tuesday, to suffer upsets down the stretch.
“We’re kind of hoping someone else helps us out along the way, but that may or may not happen,” Lee said.
Led by 6-foot-1 senior middle blocker Johna Alford, who dominated the front line at times leading all players with 12 kills and eight blocks, Lexington was able to fend off each and every rally Salado mustered, no matter how emotionally charged.
“She’s quick off the floor, she’s a good blocker, she moves well and she’s got a quick arm swing,” Lee said of Alford. “So you do what you can and hope your defense and pursuit of the game keeps you alive, and for a long time it did.”
In Game 1, Salado took an early 6-4 lead on an ace by Shyenne Hicks to the left-back corner. But Alford responded and tied it at 9-9 with a kill and sparked an 8-1 Lexington run that included three blocks and two more kills from Alford.
Trailing 21-14 following back-to-back cross-court kills from Karley Wren and a four-hit error, Salado rallied for a 6-1 run to pull within 22-20 following a kill from Madi DePriest and five Lexington errors. DePriest and Hicks each led with seven kills while Katie Kunz had six digs.
But, following a timeout, Lexington scored the final three points, capped by a devastating kill from Alford that knocked Hicks backward.
Lexington kept the pressure on early in Game 2, pulling ahead 6-1 on kills from Alford and Wren, but Salado didn’t wilt, pulling it even at 11-11 on an ace from Meredith Ward prompting a timeout.
From there, neither team could pull ahead by more than one, jockeying back and forth through seven ties, including 19-19 after a kill by Depriest.
“We’ve talked about that, that we have to keep the ball in play to give us a chance to score,” Lee said. “So I felt really good about our pursuit of the game, how we played defensively in Game 1 and Game 2.”
But back-to-back errors by Salado spiraled into three more and Lexington took advantage for a 24-20 lead.
Game 3 was never in question, though, as Lexington scored the first four points and snowballed from there for a 15-4 lead with eight of Salado’s 15 errors in the game.
Despite the sour ending, and needing help to even reach the postseason, Franz for one hasn’t given up hope.
“Every day. In practice tomorrow I’m just going to be thinking playoffs every single play, no matter what, even if we’re not in the running,” Franz said. “Because anything can happen, any team can beat any team at any point in time.”
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