No. 16 Pirates squeak by Bobcats in four-set thriller

Box score

GREENWOOD, S.C. --- The No. 16 Armstrong Atlantic State University women's volleyball team rallied from a second-set deficit and a 1-0 disadvantage in the match to defeat Lees-McRae College, 3-1, in a high-energy battle of NCAA Division II Southeast Region opponents on Friday night at Lander University's Crossover Tournament.

Armstrong Atlantic (26-0) won the match by scores of 23-25, 25-23, 25-17, and 25-19 to keep its record unblemished, while snapping Lees-McRae's (20-7) 17-match winning streak. The Pirates posted a .215 hitting percentage and eight blocks on the night, while holding the Bobcats to a .180 clip on the attack.

Megan Epperson (St. John, Ind.) continued her strong play with a match-high 19 kills, recording her second straight double-double with 11 digs. Taylor Clendenin (Statesville, N.C.) chipped in a double-double of her own with 15 kills and 10 digs, attacking at a .302 clip while posting a team-high three service aces.

Megan Mitchell (Minden, Nev.) added 42 assists, seven digs, and three aces, while Lauren Fox (Garland, Texas) chipped in a team-high four blocks. Sariah Suryadevara (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Taylor Pritchett (Apex, N.C.) also added 15 and 10 digs, respectively.

Jessica Santaniello paced the Pirates with 16 kills, as Brendyce Budd and Brittany Wolf added 13 and 12 smashes, respectively. Budd and Santaniello each posted a double-double with 19 and 13 digs, respectively, as Ashley Seal posted match-highs of 46 assists and four service aces while adding 10 digs for a double-double of her own. Wolf added a match-high six blocks, as Casey Howett and Stacey Davis each posted 13 digs.

Armstrong got off to a strong start in the first set, taking an early 9-3 lead on a Santaniello before the Bobcats responded with an 8-2 run to even the tally at 11-11 on back-to-back aces from Clendenin. After the Pirates answered with a 9-4 spurt to take a 20-15 lead on a pair of kills by Santaniello, the Bobcats stormed back with a 7-1 surge to claim a 22-21 advantage following an emphatic smash from Fox. The Pirates would pull even twice in the next three points before the Bobcats shut the door, completing the rally on an Epperson kill and an Armstrong hitting error to take the first set by a 25-23 margin.

The second set proved to be an emotionally charged and tightly contested affair, with the teams battling and scraping for every point throughout the frame. Lees-McRae jumped out to an early 4-1 lead on back-to-back aces from Mitchell before Armstrong responded, countering with an 11-7 run to claim a narrow 12-11 lead on a kill by Wolf. The Bobcats answered with a 4-1 spurt, retaking the lead at 15-13 on a block by Clendenin and Fox.

Armstrong countered with a 4-0 run to claim a 17-15 advantage before Lees-McRae responded with a 3-1 spurt to even the tally at 18-18 on an emphatic kill from Clendenin. The Bobcats would open a 21-19 lead on an Epperson kill and a pair of blocks from Mitchell and Jessica Singewald (Port St. Lucie, Fla.) before Armstrong answered with a 5-1 run, taking a 24-22 advantage before closing out the set on a Santaniello kill to even the match at 1-1.

The Bobcats reasserted themselves in the opening moments of the third set, taking an early 13-7 lead on a Clendenin service ace before the Pirates responded with a 10-0 run that proved to be a turning point in the match, as Armstrong opened a 17-13 margin on an ace from Seal. Lees-McRae closed the gap to 17-15 with a quick 2-0 spurt before Armstrong regained control, shutting the door on the frame with an 8-2 run to take a 2-1 lead in the match with a 25-17 third-set win.

Lees-McRae showed tremendous toughness in the fourth set, rebounding from an early 6-2 deficit and battling back to even the score at 15-15 following a pair of Clendenin smashes and a Pirate miscue. Armstrong countered with a 5-1 run to take a 20-16 lead on a kill by Wolf and force a Bobcat timeout. The Bobcats would trim the margin to 21-18 on a kill by Epperson before the Pirates shut the door, closing out the set and the match with a 4-1 run that included a trio of kills from Wolf.

The Bobcats return to the court on Saturday when they take on USC Aiken at 2 p.m. on the final day of the Lander Crossover Tournament in Horne Area.

- LMC -