CAMERON — The third set did not win the match for Gatesville. It just felt like it did.
After losing the first two sets of their playoff opener against Madisonville, the Hornets’ season hung in the balance as the third set began. Knowing the potential ramifications, Gatesville immediately constructed a 13-3 advantage and never looked back.
Trailing just momentarily during the duration of the contest, the Hornets rallied for a 25-27, 22-25, 25-14, 25-18, 15-11 victory Tuesday evening, propelling them into the area round for the sixth time since 2009.
Following the win, Gatesville senior Madison Carpenter said the dominance her team displayed during the third set carried the Hornets forward.
“That was really important,” the setter said. “Going into those next games, we were already up on them, and they were feeling down.
“Once we played like we did in the third set, we knew that was us. That was Gatesville volleyball, and that’s how we should have played the first two games.”
Hornets head coach Rickey Phillips agreed.
“That set gave us confidence and momentum,” he said. “Once we started making some plays, from then on, the kids realized that we are the better team, and we needed to go take care of business.”
Gatesville (31-11) won six of the match’s first eight points and held a 16-11 advantage in the opening set, but Madisonville responded, tying the score 22-22 before surviving a set point and using a 4-1 outburst to secure the win.
The second set was more of the same as the Hornets allowed an early 5-2 lead to slip away, falling into an 18-14 hole before rebounding to pull ahead 22-21. Once again, however, the Lady Mustangs closed with a flurry, tallying four unanswered points to go up 2-0.
Then, Gatesville saved its season.
With seniors Rosie Lee, Sadie Swindall and Maci Snively, among others, punctuating Carpenter’s assists, the Hornets quickly took control of the set.
“That really brought Madisonville’s spirit down,” Lee said, “and it allowed us to get the foothold we needed.”
The Lady Mustangs (24-15) held narrow leads at 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 early in the fourth set, but Gatesville controlled the remainder of the set, holding off several comeback attempts by Madisonville.
Then, in the tiebreaker, the Hornets set the tone by winning five consecutive points after trailing 1-0, and Lee completed the rally by recording Gatesville’s final three points.
“We just shook off those first two games,” Carpenter said. “We kept holding our heads up high and decided we were going to come back and finish them off, and that’s what we did.”
Now, the Hornets must quickly refocus as they prepare to face No. 4 Liberty Hill at Belton High School on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the area round.
While Gatesville was able to emerge victorious against Madisonville, Phillips knows a similar showing against the Lady Panthers could be disastrous.
“We can’t play average and beat those guys,” he said. “Every round, we have to play better.”