10/21/04 — Prep volleyball -- Rosewood clinches playoff berth

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Prep volleyball -- Rosewood clinches playoff berth

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on October 21, 2004 1:57 PM

FARMVILLE -- Rosewood senior middle hitter Jessica Hill picked an opportune time to have one of her best performances of the season.

Facing North Johnston in the Class 1-A Carolina Conference tournament semifinals with a N.C. High School Athletic Association playoff berth on the line, Hill turned in a game-high 23 kills and 10 blocks as the Eagles posted a 25-22, 16-25, 25-16, 25-20 win over the Panthers at Farmville Central's gymnasium.

The win, coupled with Princeton's loss in the second semifinal game against Farmville, assures the Eagles will take the conference's second playoff spot when postseason play begins on Oct. 26. Tonight at 7 p.m., Rosewood makes the trip to western Pitt County again to face the regular season champion Jaguars in the conference championship game.

Rosewood (17-5) and North Johnston finished with identical 8-4 conference marks during the regular season and split the regular season series at 1-1. The Panthers concluded their season at 16-8.

"I knew whoever wanted it most and had the most heart would win this game," Rosewood coach Jennifer Cochran said. "They wanted to be at the game tomorrow. They knew this would also possibly guarantee us going to the playoffs."

"We are excited. I knew all along this team had it in them."

With a 2-1 advantage, the Eagles began pulling away from the Panthers midway through the fourth set as a tip by Stephanie Rhodes with Kasey Grey serving put Rosewood up 17-11. North Johnston closed the gap to 17-16, before Rosewood scored four unanswered points to pad its margin.

Fittingly, Hill -- one of four Rosewood seniors -- finished the fourth set and put the Panthers away with a block, then a kill on a perfect set from Abigail Barrow.

Barrow and Kelli Gurley consistently set Hill through the match.

"We played more as a team this game," Hill said. "I think I realized if we didn't win this game, our season was over. I just stepped it up and tried harder."

Wednesday's win saw the Eagles jump out to big leads in the first and third sets, respectively, with consistent serving by Gurley. Rosewood claimed a 10-0 advantage early in the first set and led 8-0 in the third before the Panthers scratched. Gurley had three aces combined during the two lengthy service runs.

The big margin proved especially important in the first set as North Johnston rallied all the way back from a 16-7 deficit to eventually tie the set at 19-19. The Panthers took their first lead at 22-21, before Rosewood went on to score four of the last five points to win 25-21.

With the score tied at 22-22, Stephanie Rhodes delivered an ace, while Hill closed out the set with two straight tips.

North Johnston seemed to use that momentum in the second set. With Kelley Smith serving, the Panthers led by as much as 16-12. A kill by Hannah Ellis, who came back after an ankle injury early in the first set, made the score 19-13. With Ellis serving, teammate Amanda Pope's spike finished the set at 25-16.

Whatever momentum the Panthers gained from tying the set at 1-1, Rosewood quickly took away in the third set. Gurley delivered two aces during an eight-point service run, while Hill pounded four kills as the Eagles went up 8-0 and essentially never looked back.

With a complete all-around game, Rosewood let the Panthers get only as close as four points once at 12-8. From there, Hill had six kills the rest of the way.

"Once she (Hill) got going, she did a good job of putting the ball away and controlling the net," Cochran said.

Brooke Goff clinched the third with a tip as the Eagles went up 2-1 on their conference rivals.

North Johnston coach Nicole Davis believes her team could have defended Hill and the Eagle attack with more defensive movement.

"I don't think we did a good job of getting down in our transition on defense," Davis said. "There were a few balls that hit spots, but I think most of it was lack of focus on our part.

"The girls had a good year, though. This conference was as good as it has been in a few years."