RED OAK — Pitted against a third-straight team formerly situated ahead of them in a District 10-5A playoff spot, the Red Oak Lady Hawks took care business in five-set fashion Friday evening.
After dropping sets three and four with a two-set lead, Red Oak (27-9, 6-3 in 10-5A) bounced back for the Homecoming win over (28-14, 5-4) Mansfield Lake Ridge, 25-23, 25-22, 18-25, 19-25, 15-9.
The win moves Red Oak into a tie for second place in the district standings with (11-13, 6-3) Midlothian. The Lady Panthers fell in five sets to No. 6 (33-8, 9-0) Waxahachie on Friday evening at home. Before the match between Red Oak and Midlothian on Friday, Sept. 30, the Lady Hawks trailed the Lady Panthers by two games in the standings and were situated in fifth place on the outside looking in at the playoff picture.
After that win, Red Oak Head Coach Hope Porter said her team could not fall into a comfort zone. The Lady Hawks listened.
"It is rewarding this far. But I will remind them that we don't want to get complacent and think 'oh well this is where we wanted to be' and then end up falling out. I'm going to stress to them that you have to continue to build on this win and continue to get better every time you step onto the court," Porter said after the win over Midlothian. "We have to take it one match at a time and we can't look to the end. We have to focus on the match that day."
More than four points never separated the two teams in each of the first two sets, as Red Oak won both 25-23 and 25-22.
In set three, Red Oak jumped out to a five-point lead behind a quick 5-0 run led by Katie Hess. The junior powered a kill through a Logyn Hinds block attempt then rattled off back-to-back aces. Emily North capped the run with her second kill of the set for a 7-2 Lady Hawk advantage.
Lake Ridge mounted its own 7-2 run that tied the set at nine. The Lady Eagles then took their first lead at 15-14 before finishing off the Lady Hawks on a 10-4 run for the third-set win, 25-18.
Despite the same 25-18 final for Lake Ridge in set four, the Lady Eagles — more specifically Josannah Vazquez — were much more in control than in the set prior.
Vazquez finished the match one kill shy of her season high (20) set Sept. 27 against Mansfield Legacy. The senior outside hitter also converted on 20 of her 21 serves (95.2 percent), which was key considering her aggressive style, while also leading all ball handlers with 20 digs.
“She plays the whole way around, she is jumping from the backcourt and swinging, that kid has a lot of responsibility on that team and they expect her to hit from the front row, back row and she does a good job of it,” Porter said. “She was definitely a factor in the match and we had to adjust a few things with her being on the back row and attacking the ball, but I thought our girls did well in making those adjustments.”
Porter also noted that although Vazquez found quite a bit of success early in the match, she thought after a few changes made by the Lady Hawks that the success slowed, if nothing else.
Despite dropping the fourth set, which was the second-straight after winning the first two, the Lady Hawks found a little spark and extra emotion following a Serena Patterson kill sandwiched between a Hess kill and ace. However, it was not just an extra fist pump from the six girls on the court. Porter noted a newfound buzz of enthusiasm being shown by the Lady Hawks on the bench, as well.
“It is not just the six kids on the court who are going to make this happen. It is everybody,” Porter recalled from her talk with the Lady Hawks between sets four and five. “I told them that you guys are standing here closed mouthed, and especially when you are the one coming off of the court who just made a mistake, you come over here, don’t say a word, and that is not the teammate you need to be right now. You need to positive with the people on the court. You have to encourage your teammates on the court and you have to build a positive energy for those people on the court. I thought the bench did an excellent job of supporting the kids that were on the court and when a kid came out they were supporting who was one the court.”
The emotion showed early as Red Oak notched the first two points in the sprint to 15. But Lake Ridge fought back.
With the set tied at seven, it was an ace off of the right hand of Kylie Bryan followed by a Vasquez error that turned the match. Red Oak closed on an 8-2 run behind the solid play and diving bodies from all six on the court for the 15-9 fifth-set win.
From a ball Patterson saved near the back wall along the basketball baseline to Kennedy Wiley nearly running up the five-foot wall into the first row of the Lake Ridge bleachers to save a deflected kill attempt, Porter said her team played as such — a team.
“Tonight was definitely a team effort. I would not put a standout person out there today,” Porter said. “I think everybody did the job that we needed them to do when it had to be done. For that reason, we were able to pull out a win. We didn’t have to rely on one kid to make that win happen.
“We are going to let it soak in for the next few hours, but we hit the gym in the morning and are looking forward to our next two matches. I continue to preach to them that it is one match at a time, one set at a time, just one at a time. That is all we can play. That is all we can control, so we can’t look ahead. Even the best teams get beat.”
Red Oak returns to action Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 6:30 p.m. on the road against (14-18, 1-7) Mansfield Timberview.
*A feature column on the Red Oak Lady Hawks' victory and season thus far will be in Sunday's Daily Light and online Sunday afternoon.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith