MOREHEAD CITY — High-intensity, five-set thrillers.
That’s what county volleyball fans have come to expect when West Carteret and Croatan take the court.
The high intensity was there again Tuesday, but the five sets were missing as the Patriots brought the match to an end in four. After dropping the first set 25-23, the Morehead City squad rattled off three straight, taking those sets 25-16, 25-22, 25-23.
“I just assumed they were going to find a way to force five,” West coach Michael Turner said with a noticeably strained voice after exhorting his team late in the fourth set. “But I like our chances in the fifth set. We were so confident.”
Five of the six previous matches in the rivalry series had gone five sets with the Patriots going 3-2 in those contests and 4-2 in the last six matchups. West and Croatan have proven to be two of the best programs in the eastern part of the state in that time with the Patriots putting up a 100-22 mark and the Cougars displaying a 91-32 record.
Croatan broke a three-match losing streak to its rival last season and hoped to make it back-to-back victories over West with a 25-23 win in the first set.
“I told the girls we can’t get complacent,” Croatan coach Lindsey Gurley said. “I don’t care how bad we beat a team, each set is a different set.”
The Patriots scored six of seven points to climb to within one at 24-23 after falling behind, but a hitting error stymied the rally and put the club in a 1-0 hole.
Holding a 10-8 lead in the second set, West broke away, outscoring the visitors 9-2 over the next 11 points, thanks to two kills from Abby Scudder with Courtney Tyndall pitching in with a kill and Julia Quinn adding a block. Scudder had 15 kills on the night, followed by Tyndall with 10. Quinn had three kills and three blocks.
The Patriots took a 19-10 lead and cruised from there on their way to the 25-16 win.
They displayed their prowess from the service line in the following set. Emma Nicholson turned a 10-9 lead into a 14-9 spread with four serves in a row, including two aces. West had 12 aces in the game with Scudder and Nicholson each registering five.
“We served so very well for four sets,” Turner said. “We got them out of system, maybe not the first set, but our serve got them out of system after that. We are an aggressive serving team.”
Turner’s squad took two of the next three points to jump out to a 16-10 advantage when the Cougars scored five in a row to pull within one with Lillie Seymour serving on four of them. They kept the momentum with five of the next eight points to take a 20-19 lead after a kill from Savannah McAloon.
The teams traded points to make it 21-20 in favor of the visitors before the Patriots rattled off four in a row with Grayson Edwards putting up two kills and a block. Croatan’s Kelly Hagerty, who led her team with 11 kills, stopped the run to make it a 24-22 game, but West took the next point to take the set.
“They are a great team,” Gurley said. “They have a lot of energy. This is their house which should make you want to beat them even more. It just didn’t feel like we were ourselves. It didn’t look like us which is unfortunate. We’ll just have to learn from it.”
The fourth set proved a game of runs with the Cougars scoring five in a row and then four in a row to take an 11-6 lead. Gracie D’Amico had two aces during the stretch and Seymour two kills. West trailed 16-11 when it scored five in a row to tie it up with Nicholson serving on four of the points.
The Cougars took six of the next 10 points to hold a 22-20 lead when a hitting error gave the home team the serve, and Scudder took advantage with three points in a row from the line including an ace. Haggerty broke the run with a kill to pull her team to within one at 24-23, but a hitting error on the next point gave the Patriots the set and the match.
“I think I tore my larynx,” a noticeably fired-up Turner said following that set. “We had one little spell in the first set where we had bad body language. The kids have got this look about them when they are really dialed in, and it wasn’t there for that one spot in the first set. After that, it was all in all the time. They went and got it.”