NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Nov. 15, 2012) – Survive and advance is the name of the game when playing a single-elimination tournament.
The ETSU volleyball team did just that as the Bucs advanced to the semifinals of the Atlantic Sun Championship by sweeping Mercer (25-22, 25-15, 25-19) on Thursday night inside Lipscomb’s Allen Arena.
Three Buccaneer players registered double-digit kills, while sophomore Jamie Rutledge (Kingsport, Tenn.) enjoyed her A-Sun Tournament debut by finishing with 39 assists and 10 digs – marking her ninth double-double of the season. Junior Megan Devine (Kingsport, Tenn.) led all players with a match-high 14 kills, while sophomore Bethany Gesell (Kingsport, Tenn.) ignited the ETSU run early by totaling seven of her 13 kills in the opening set. Meanwhile, fellow sophomore Meredith Hardy (Kingsport, Tenn.) provided the Blue and Gold with 12 kills and a pair of blocks – extending her streak of posting at least one block to 59 consecutive matches. Overall, Hardy hit .455 and Gesell finished with a .440 clip.
As a unit, the Bucs hit a blistering .519 (17-3-27) in the closing set and finished with a .299 (49-14-117) attack percentage, while holding the Bears to a .174 clip (38-18-115) in the three sets. The Blue and Gold also out-dug the top digging team in the conference by nine, 50-41, thanks to 10 by freshman Ashleigh Shain (Geneva, Ill.).
With the win, ETSU snapped its two-game skid and improved to 21-12, while Mercer ended its season at 11-18.
After a tight first set where both teams combined for seven ties and a lead change, ETSU controlled the second set and used a strong finish in the third to cap off the sweep.
The Bucs trailed for the majority of the first set, but when they needed it late, ETSU stepped up its play and rallied for a 25-22 win in the opener. Both teams traded points early on, but with play knotted at 3-all, Mercer strung together four straight points to go up 7-3. Despite going on a brief 3-0 spurt, ETSU cut its deficit to one, but still couldn’t get over the hump until the Bucs’ first block of the set put the Blue and Gold ahead, 19-18, as Hardy and Gesell combined for the stuff at the net. From there, the Bucs never trailed and went on for the three-point set win. Gesell fueled the ETSU attack as she posted seven kills on a .538 hitting percentage in the frame, while Devine and Rutledge were strong defensively. The Kingsport, Tenn. duo accounted for 10 of the 20 digs for the Bucs as they both totaled five each.
ETSU carried the momentum over to the second as the Bucs won eight of the first 11 points and never looked back en route to cruising to a 10-point victory, 25-15. The Bears won the first two points of the set, but the Blue and Gold answered with an 8-1 surge to go up 8-3 courtesy of ball handling error by Mercer’s Monica Sanchez. ETSU eventually saw its lead soar to 13 when Gesell jump-started a 3-0 run with a kill to put the Blue and Gold up, 21-8. Mercer never had an answer for the strong play by the Bucs and ETSU held a commanding 2-0 lead in the match. The Bucs hit .227 (16-6-44) in the second, while holding Mercer to a .026 clip (8-7-39). Individually, Devine (five) and Hardy (five) accounted for 10 of the team’s 16 kills, while freshman Khadijah Wiley (Columbus, Ga.) generated two kills on her three swings in the stanza.
Mercer threw everything they had at the Blue and Gold in the closing set, but with the score all even at 10, ETSU broke the frame open with a 9-3 run to take a 19-13 advantage. Devine posted four kills in the surge, while a Mercer attack error a few plays later forced the Bears to call a timeout after it extended the Buccaneer lead to seven, 22-15. From there, Mercer was only able to pull within five, and Devine and the Bucs sent the Bears into hibernation for the winter when Kayla Williams (El Paso, Texas) found the A-Sun Player of the Year selection for the kill to end the match. The Bucs were unstoppable in the third as Hardy went a perfect 3-for-3 on her attacks, Gesell hit .600 (4-1-5), Devine was .500 (6-1-10) and Ivey Rice (Johnson City, Tenn.) finished with three kills and a .400 attack percentage.
The Bears were led by Caroline Carlton and Molly Locke as they each ended with 11 kills.
ETSU now takes on No. 2 seed and host Lipscomb on Friday evening at 6 p.m. (Eastern) inside Allen Arena. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3, while live stats will be offered via AtlanticSun.org.
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