Brock Netter, Staff Writer
WAVERLY — Whether she knows it or not, there’s something about October 24 that Southeastern’s Skylar Hice really seems to enjoy.
In 2018, it was the day she logged her 1,000th career dig. Fast forward a year later and she’s hit another career milestone.
The senior hitter tallied her 1,000th career kill early in the first set and the Panthers (13-12) took down North Adams (20-4) for the second time this season, this time in four-sets, by a 25-12, 25-23, 22-25, 25-20 final on Thursday.
“It’s hard to beat a team twice, especially one like North Adams,” Hice said. “They pick up nearly every ball and it makes it tough for us. But the difference was our passing. We were much more confident about what we were doing on the floor.”
It wasn’t a matter of “if” Hice was going to hit 1,000, it was a matter of how quickly she was going to achieve it as she entered the match with 999 career kills. Number 1,000, as expected, came early as she found a hole in the middle of the floor that gave the Panthers a 5-1 lead in the first set.
“It was a really special moment, especially coming back from shoulder surgery,” Hice said. “There were times I was really unsure of my hitting, which is my strong point. So to come back and get it means a lot to me.”
With one piece of business out of the way, the Panthers kept working and dissected the Green Devils all night long.
Leading 10-3, Hice, alongside Hannah Lougheed, Ava Christopher and Lyndsey Skeens, combined for 10 kills at the net while the Panthers served up four aces to overwhelm North Adams for a first-set victory.
North Adams knew it couldn’t hang in by playing at the Panthers’ pace, so it took matters into its on hands in the second set.
The Green Devils went on long rallies, waiting for the Panthers to get frustrated and make an error or commit a violation mid-rally for a point.
That strategy worked as the Green Devils maintained multiple three-point leads throughout the set. The Panthers rallied behind kills from Lougheed and Christopher to stay the course and hang around, just waiting for the right time.
Back-to-back aces from Lougheed tied the game at 19 before North Adams pushed the lead to 22-20. Then a kill and ace from Christopher once again tied the game. That was followed by a pair of kills from Hice, before a Green Devils hitting error completed a Panther comeback by a 25-23 count.
“Ava and Hannah, along with all of the younger players, have been incredible this season,” Hice said. “We’ve sort of forced them to step up and not really gave them a choice. But they’ve done a great job coming up in really big spots. When Hannah is on a roll, she crushes the ball and the same goes with Ava. They’re both great players.”
With thoughts of a sweep on the mind, Hice went to work and registered four kills early to give the Panthers a 9-6 lead out of the gate. North Adams hung around, taking a lead at 21-19.
Two kills from Lougheed and one from Skeens gave the Panthers a one-point lead. Yet, the Green Devils managed to rip off the next four points and extended their season for another set with a 25-22 win of their own.
“We sent way too many free balls over the net and didn’t attack the ball aggressively at certain points,” Southeastern coach Jimmy Hutton said. “This was completely different from the Alexander game, and I’m not sure what the problem was. That first set was phenomenal. The second set, North Adams took it to us and that third set, we didn’t close.”
Neck-and-neck throughout the fourth, both teams jockeyed for position and butted heads like rams waiting to see who would give in first.
After eight ties, the Green Devils had the advantage at 16-13 after back-to-back aces from DeLaney Harper. But Southeastern’s pedigree wasn’t to be denied down the stretch. Skeens came up with a block, followed by a Lougheed kill, and Hice served an ace to tie the set at 18.
Later, Skeens powered a kill and came up with another block, sandwiched between an Alexis Bailes’ kill, that pushed the Panthers’ lead to 22-20. That momentum propelled SE to score the next three points and continue its season.
Southeastern advances to its fourth straight Division III district championship, where it will take on undefeated Wheelersburg at 4 p.m., Saturday.
“We have to pass the ball and block much better than we did in this one,” Hutton said. “Wheelersburg has a very nice team with a lot of experience. But I believe we can give them a run for their money as long as we do those two things.”