10/10/07 — Spring Creek falls in heartbreaker

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Spring Creek falls in heartbreaker

By Rob Craig
Published in Sports on October 10, 2007 1:49 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- Spring Creek middle hitter Kristin Smith collapsed on the floor and pulled her sweat-stained jersey over her head.

She and her teammates attempted to hide the emotion from having a conference title within grasp get snatched away. North Johnston denied the Gators' bid for Class 1-A Carolina Conference supremacy with a come-from-behind 25-21, 26-28, 23-25, 25-9, 25-12 victory Tuesday evening.

The crushing defeat dropped Spring Creek (12-3 overall) into a three-way tie with the Panthers and Princeton at 6-3 in conference play. The Gators conclude regular-season play Thursday afternoon at North Duplin.

"We got off to a slow start," said Spring Creek coach Deanna Morris. "Our momentum stayed down. I think we were nervous to start out with."

The Gators fell behind by four points twice in the opening game. Smith and Tasha Whitfield combined for four kills as Spring Creek forged a 12-12 deadlock.

North Johnston (14-5) benefited from strong serving by Kayla Whitley and the net play of Caitlyn Hines to take the opening game 25-21.

The Panthers seized an early 8-1 advantage in game two. Despite the early deficit, Spring Creek dug its way out and eventually grabbed a 19-18 lead on back-to-back kills by Smith.

Whitfield capped the game with a kill to give Spring Creek the 28-26 win.

Spring Creek jumped ahead 15-7 lead in game three before holding on late for a 25-23 win. In the game, Smith energized the Gators with nine of her game-high 27 kills.

"Kristin is a great athlete," said Morris. "She has a lot of heart, so when her heart is up, she's ready to kill that ball. She came ready to play."

In between games, the North Johnston coaching staff and fans complained about the way Smith was spiking the ball. The commotion seemed to rattle Smith and her teammates as they fell behind by 10 in the fourth game and never recovered in a 25-9 loss.

"They did that to shake up the game," said Morris of the complaining. "(Kristin) was just playing her game."

The Gators bolted to a 6-3 advantage in game five. The Panthers answered with a four-point run.

"We had a hard time with our passing," said Morris. "Our serving wasn't as good as it normally is either."

Following a pair of long rallies -- aided by two terrific digs by Brooke Albertson -- the Gators pulled ahead 11-8 after two kills by Smith and a kill was sent out of bounds by Hines.

It was then that all the complaining to the officials would pay off for North Johnson. On a kill which would have given the Gators a 12-8 lead, Smith was call for a phantom carry.

The point and possession gave the Panthers momentum. Three kills by Brittany Keene put North Johnston in the lead at 14-12 and Hines redeemed herself from her earlier miscue with a match-ending ace.

Even with the loss, the Gators remain alive for a conference title, but to accomplish that they'll need a victory against the Rebels.

Still, this loss is one that will sting for a while.

"We just couldn't get it together tonight," said Morris.