October 7, 2009 11:21:00 AM
ABERDEEN -- In a perfect world, the third time is always the charm.
Too, in a perfect world, a resounding 25-10 first-set triumph on your home court should be enough to kick-start your team to a straight-set win.
And again, in a perfect world, a 2-1 set advantage and holding serve with a 24-22 lead in the fourth and what should be the deciding set should be a good indication your team had a better than even chance of advancing to the Class I North Half finals.
Unfortunately, everyone knows there is no such thing as a perfect world and that fact was painfully evident Tuesday for the Aberdeen High School volleyball team.
Aberdeen had its season end as the Lady Bulldogs were eliminated from the state playoffs for the third consecutive year by the Ashley Saunders-led Center Hill Lady Mustangs (25-10, 19-25, 28-26, 24-26, 15-10).
Adding insult to injury, Center Hill ended Aberdeen''s four-game winning streak and had handed the Lady Bulldogs their first loss of the season earlier this year in a tournament in Jackson.
"Center Hill and Ashley Saunders have been our nemesis the past three years," Aberdeen coach Marquis Burnett said. "We just haven''t been able to get past them, but I have to give them (Center Hill) all the credit as a team and to Saunders individually -- a definite a D-I (Division I) type player."
First-year Center Hill coach Nick Eddlemon agreed with Burnett''s assessment of Saunders.
"Ashley''s by far and away our best player," Eddlemon said. "But she also has a strong supporting cast which helps take the pressure off her. Tonight, we got strong performances from Ellen McClatchy, Rachel Evans, and Taylor Kane, and when they play like they did tonight, we can compete with anyone.
"We needed a big game from Ellen, our outside hitter and setter, and she came through big time for us. Rachel did a good job serving and that kept us in the game, while Taylor (Kane) helped us at the net and is an upcoming young player who has really started playing well this year."
Aberdeen finished the season with a 24-4 record, while Center Hill, which is in Olive Branch, improved to 24-8.
Center Hill''s talent wasn''t evident early on, however, as Aberdeen rolled in the first set thanks to excellent overall team play and an outstanding individual performance by Jameika Hoskins, Aberdeen''s counterpart to Saunders, who had no less than five kills in the opening set.
The Lady Bulldogs dominated play in the first set from start to finish and led 18-6. Center Hill score two consecutive points just once, cutting a 22-7 deficit to 22-9 late in the contest.
"I liked the way we came out," Burnett said. "We were aggressive and the aggressive volleyball team is going to win most of the time. We should have played every game with that same aggressiveness, but unfortunately we did not and, as a result, Center Hill will be going to North State Saturday and not us."
The Lady Mustangs evened things up in the second set, as Saunders recorded three kills. Center Hill built a 7-3 lead before posting six straight points to expand its advantage to 13-3.
Down 23-14, Aberdeen made a late run to cut the deficit to 23-19 behind the net play of Mattie Scarborough and an outstanding save by Sommer Burnett, but Center Hill scored the final two points -- the last one on Saunders'' third kill to claim the win.
The next two sets were the barn-burner variety, with the third set going to Aberdeen and the fourth set to Center Hill.
Hoskins was a one-player wrecking crew early on in the third set with five of Aberdeen''s first seven points as the Lady Bulldogs built a 7-2 lead, but Center Hill scored six consecutive points midway through the set to cut a 16-9 deficit to 16-15.
Neither team held more than a two-point lead the remainder of the set before Aberdeen broke a 26-26 tie on a Hoskins'' tip and a Burnett serving ace to claim a 2-1 set advantage.
Hoskins and Saunders dominated play in the fourth set, as neither team could build more than a three-point lead. Center Hill led 8-5 and 11-8, but Aberdeen chipped away at the deficit and tied it at 22 on a Scarborough service ace. Hoskins then scored the next two points on a tip and a kill to give her team a two-point advantage.
But one point from notching its first victory against the Lady Mustangs in three tries, an Aberdeen net serve allowed Center Hill to avoid elimination. Seconds later, Saunders brought the Lady Mustangs back from what appeared to be certain defeat by scoring two of her team''s final three points -- the last of which was a rally ending kill that created a much-needed momentum swing for the visitors.
"Being down 24-22 and winning, that was just heart," Eddlemon said. "They (Center Hill) just wanted it and from there I think we just stole the momentum."
The Lady Mustangs took an early 4-0 lead in a fifth set and secured the victory on a kill by Saunders.
"We fought hard all night long and we all pulled together," said Saunders, a 5-foot-10 leaper who gave up playing basketball several years ago to concentrate on competitive volleyball. "We''ve been to the finals two years in a row, and we''re going to try to win it all this time around."
A disappointed Burnett said there is nothing for his team to be ashamed about in losing to Center Hill.
"We lost to a better team, but we had some lapses which cost us a trip to the North Half finals," Burnett said. "I was confident of beating them, and our team was confident also. We played hard and we never gave up. But what had been our strength all year (serving) cost us dearly tonight because we made way too many serving errors."