BY TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Report
CORNING - Saturday's Class B championship match was chocked full of nail-biting intensity. In the end, Owego would successfully defend its sectional title, but not without the strongest of challenges from rival Windsor. In the fifth meeting of the season between the STAC juggernauts, the powerful Indians rallied to win the final two sets for a 3-2 victory.
"I knew coming in that it was going to be the biggest battle we've had so far," said Owego head coach Brittney Race. "Obviously, losing to them twice this season, it put us in a spot where we were trying to make a point, trying to get ourselves going.
"Windsor's an awesome team and I knew that they would make us play every ball, every point, every time."
Owego scored bookend 25-23 victories in the match while the Black Knights controlled the tempo in a pair of 25-14 wins in games two and three. The fourth set was the turning point in Owego's triumph and, with their backs to the wall, the Indians dominated the action to roll to a 25-10 rout.
The Indians bolted to a 4-0 lead, but the Knights would keep hanging around. Then Owego got the break it was looking for. With Windsor trailing, 11-7, a Knight player let a ball go by, thinking it was going to be a long hit out of bounds. Instead, the ball hit inside the back line, scoring the second point in an 8-0 run that put the game out of reach. The Indians went on to score six of the final eight points and even the match at two sets apiece.
"I think it went back to we finally started passing again," Race said. "When we can pass the ball, our offense is going to take care of itself, but if we can't get that ball to Grace (Thomas), to our setter, we're going to struggle. We're going to be trying to battle for everything, but when we're in system, we're good. We know what to do with the ball, so we this two games, we stopped being in system. We stopped passing. And then those last two games I thought our defense played phenomenal."
The decisive fifth game saw the Indians drop the first two points, then score the next four. Owego pushed a 9-6 lead, but Windsor fought back to take an 11-9 edge. The next several points were the results of the two teams dicing back and forth - the score being knotted at 11, 12, 13, 14 an 15. Finally, the Knights would surge ahead, and appeared to have the game in hand as they worked a 21-17 advantage, the last two points coming on Owego mistakes.
With her team down, Emma Howe put one away for a side out, then registered a kill to pull the Indians within two. An ace by Mackenzie Struble and a kill from Evee Coleman tied the score at 21. Moments later, Coleman would put away another side out shot to tie the set at 22, then Windsor was called for four hits. An error by Owego tied the game at 23, but the Indians picked up the next two points and the victory celebration was afoot.
The opening game of the match saw Windsor break a 4-4 tie with a 4-point burst. The Knights were still up four, 16-12, when Owego worked its way back into contention. An ace by Struble tied the set at 18 and Coleman's block made it 19-18, but Windsor took the next three points on Owego hitting errors. The Knights led, 22-20, but the Indians scored four straight points to grab a 24-22 lead, then split the final two points.
Leading game two, 9-6, the Knights went on an 8-0 run to take command and the two teams split the next 16 points evenly as Windsor tied the match at a game apiece.
Game three was nip-and-tuck early as the Indians either kept the score tied or trailed by no more than two points until the Knights went ahead, 12-9. From there, Windsor tried to create some space, but never got ahead by more than five until going on a 7-0 run to end the game.
"After winning that first game, I thought we were in good shape and then we stopped passing," Race said. "We stopped playing the game that we know how to play in those next two, but, thank goodness, we were able to pull out the last two."
Senior setter Grace Thomas played a key role for the Indians, covering what seemed like every inch of the Owego half of the court in an effort to keep the ball in play or to set up hits for her teammates.
"Grace was awesome," Race said. "It makes me sick that she's a senior, but yes, if it wasn't for her, we wouldn't be in half the games that we're in. She does an awesome job. She touches everything. She's with the ball all the time. She makes everyone look good all the time."
Thomas dished out 40 assists on the day. She also had 14 digs, two kills and a block. Struble and Evee Coleman were key factors at the net, recording 12 and 10 kills, respectively. Struble also contributed 15 digs, a block and an ace while Coleman also chipped in with two blocks and a dig.
Kaylee Kelly added nine kills, 12 digs, three aces, two assists and a block, and Ruby Coleman had seven kills, eight digs and two blocks. Annika Kinney pitched in with 21 digs and an assist; Howe had six kills and two digs; Taylor Aubel added five digs, two kills and a block; Bianca DaVita posted seven digs and Sara Zepkowski had one block.
Owego advances to regional play, which will be held Tuesday at U-E at 6:30 p.m.
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