10/28/05 — 1-A playoffs - Rosewood sweeps E. Bladen, faces Pender (21-1) on Saturday

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1-A playoffs - Rosewood sweeps E. Bladen, faces Pender (21-1) on Saturday

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 28, 2005 2:18 PM

Veteran Rosewood volleyball coach Jennifer Cochran experienced mixed emotions after Thursday evening's three-set sweep of playoff opponent East Bladen.

Cochran, who has 92 career wins, praised her Eagles for overcoming a sluggish second set and finding a way to win. But, in the same breath, she acknowledged the team must play better in all phases when once-beaten Pender -- undoubtedly the east's top team -- pays a visit Saturday evening.

Senior middle hitter Stephanie Rhodes provided a match-high 15 kills as Rosewood eliminated East Bladen 25-9, 25-20, 25-11 from the Class 1-A N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs. The Eagles remained unbeaten in 24 outings.

East Bladen concluded its season 11-11.

"I'm excited, but I don't think we played to our potential today," said Cochran. "For some reason, we play (to the level) of whoever play against. I thought we played an outstanding game on Tuesday.

"Today, we played a good game, but it just wasn't our 'A' game. We didn't show what we're capable of doing."

East Bladen, the Southeastern Conference champion, never found its offensive rhythm. The visiting Eagles managed to score just 11 points off 28 service rotations and collected six kills to go along with eight hitting errors.

Rosewood benefited from numerous transition balls throughout the 63-minute match and generated several attacks, but constantly missed open spaces -- particularly after the first set.

East Bladen dug the ball well defensively, but struggled in its passing game.

"The Eagles over there kept bringing the ball back and we didn't set it up like we normally do," said East Bladen coach Jennifer Hair. "Free balls lose games because when you can attack the ball, they've got to get down and ready for it (defensively).

"We just couldn't do what we needed to do."

Six Rosewood players recorded at least two kills each and combined for just 10 hitting errors. Senior setter Abigail Barrow dished out 33 assists, including 12 in the opening set among four hitters -- Rhodes, Kasie Braswell, Clare Narron and Kelli Gurley.

Courtney Hill, the homestanding Eagles' top offensive threat, didn't attempt a kill in the first set. However, the junior middle hitter finished with 10 kills -- five each in the final two sets combined.

Rosewood raced to a 9-0 lead in the first set and kept pushing offensively. East Bladen gained its first serve on a hitting error, but quickly lost it when Rhodes pounded a kill off Erin Woodruff's block attempt.

That started a 7-0 run which silenced the small contigent of blue-and-white Eagle fans who made the trip from Elizabethtown.

"We started out great and I think that kind of went to our head a little bit about how well we played the first game," admitted Cochran. "Sometimes we take things for granted and I think that's what happened after the first game.

"We were down the second game and came back. We were playing to their level and the tempo wasn't up to where it needed to be."

East Bladen benefited from uncharacteristic Rosewood mistakes in the second set and built its biggest lead at 15-10. Cochran's team pecked away at the deficit and tied it at 17-17 on Hill's ace to midcourt.

Braswell, an outside hitter, pounded a kill down the line to make it 18-17. East Bladen committed two unforced errors, but regained service on Annette Gardner's kill.

Rosewood responded with a sideout -- one of 15 on the evening -- and put East Bladen away with a short 5-1 run. Gurley and Braswell each served an ace, while Rhodes delivered two kills.

Three Gurley aces and two Rhodes kills led to a 6-0 lead in the final set. The visitors climbed within 7-5, but could get no closer. Rhodes recorded back-to-back aces and Hill belted a kill to the right corner. Narron's kill off Barrow's assist and Rhodes' dig pushed the lead to 12-5.

Rosewood finished off East Bladen by scoring 13 of the final 19 points. The visiting Eagles tallied five points off six service rotations, including two kills and one ace, as their season came to an end.

"We're young," said Hair. "I'm inexperienced where it counts."

Rosewood swept its third consecutive opponent, but faces a much sterner test when Pender invades its gymnasium on Saturday. The Patriots reached the NCHSAA 2-A title game in 2003 and lost to Cedar Ridge in last year's eastern regional final.

Hair said Pender (21-1) resembles a "small college team" and "all those girls play year round for scholarships." Cochran discovered the same information in early scouting reports and said her Eagles must duplicate its effort from an opening-round win against East Carteret.

"It's a big challenge ... huge," said Cochran. "I think they're going to be better than East Carteret and they're going to bring a good game. They're going to hit the ball hard.

"All we can do is prepare and believe we can win."