Cats advance after extended second setOctober 14, 2021
By HUNTER TICKEL
JASPER — Jasper flipped the script once, Evansville North retorted, then it retreated.
The Wildcats (20-11) emerged from the first round Thursday of the Class 4A Sectional 16 with a 3-1 win over the Huskies in a rematch from last year’s semifinals that went the distance.
Jasper made sure it got the job done in four sets this time - 25-20, 27-29, 25-18 and 25-20.
“I’m excited for my team and my (teammates) to back them up,” senior libero Jayden Pfister said. “I think we can win. I’m ready to get a sectional title. I’m really excited.”
In a match with several momentum-boosting runs, the Wildcats conceded five consecutive points to sit on the brink of defeat 24-19 in the second game.
Then, they mounted a burst of their own with six straight to go up by one. Junior outside hitter Libby Mehringer hit a kill two attacks after her slam was dug out by the Huskies.
The lefty’s ace paved the way on the next point. She finished with team-bests of four aces, 27 assists and 14 kills.
“I think all coaches kind of dream of having a left-handed right side,” third-year coach Jennifer Hohl said. “It’s a lot easier for when the ball comes in, instead of coming across your body. Libby is a force to be reckoned with whenever she gets a hold of that ball. I fear sometimes for the opponents on the other side.”
The ensuing kills came from seniors Izzy Hopf and Kennedy Matheis, her swat grazed the net.
Mehringer’s set to sophomore right side hitter Paige Giesler tied the match. After three more ties in extra points, a hitting error and a hard-driven ball by the Huskies beat Pfister to the spot in the middle of the back row.
Pfister finished with a team-high 55 digs and chipped in with nine assists.
“Jayden is an exceptional player,” Hohl said. “She gets up a lot of balls that people think are going to hit the ground or chase them down, she’s quick. I think her defense tonight really set the tone for what we wanted to do, and how we wanted to handle the situation.”
The next game was the pivotal tiebreaker.
Jasper raced to a 6-2 advantage on a pair of kills by junior middle hitter Bailey Lents, hits by Mehringer, Matheis and an ace from junior Paige O'Neil.
Lents, Matheis and sophomore Ava Englert all finished with double-digit kills.
O’Neil dished out 22 assists, the second-most on the squad.
The lead ballooned to 16-7. Six successive from North made it a contest, but weapons from all areas of the court supplied the response Jasper needed to go up 2-1.
Hopf slapped a kill from the right side, Matheis notched a block, Lents lofted an effort over the net to score, Mehringer pushed a ball from the right side to the front left corner on one point, on the next she hammered a ball, above the net, down to the middle of the floor.
“I think something that we really stress with the girls throughout this whole season is the level of their intensity and energy,” Hohl said. “I think we could have (gone) down (in) the third game after losing that second one. But this group has done a really good job of keeping everybody accountable.”
The Wildcats led by seven three times in the closing set to secure a rematch with Evansville Reitz on at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
The schools met in the sectional final last year, a 3-0 win by the Panthers for their inaugural crown.
Jasper is a holder of 38 sectional titles.
Starting in 2011, it won six in a row in 3A. The Cats moved up a class and have finished runner-up all four years since. The three other defeats came against Castle.
“Right now, obviously, we are going to focus on Reitz,” Hohl said. “Of course as a coach, you have to look at the big picture, and kind of look ahead. You want the girls to focus on the next game, but of course, it’s always like, ‘We get to the finals, then what are we going to do then.’ They are hungry for that.”
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