Someone had to win the District 14-5A volleyball championship Tuesday night inside Panther Arena.
Unfortunately for Lady Panthers fans, a fast start and spirited win in the opening set did not carry over to games two through four, as the Red Oak Lady Hawks clinched their second-consecutive district title in four sets.
"We have talked about, since last week, that Midlothian is a good team and that we were going into their house so things are going to happen well for them," Red Oak head volleyball coach Hope Porter said. "What we couldn't do was let it get us down. They are going to score points. They are going to get kills. They are going to serve aces, but we had to be able to have a response for that. We couldn't let them get on big runs and I think we did that well tonight."
The Lady Hawks won their last four matches in just 13 total sets en route to the district championship after they suffered a five-set loss at home Oct. 9 against Corsicana that ultimately set up Tuesday's winner-take-all match.
Red Oak improved to 27-16 with the victory and 11-1 in District 14-5A, while Midlothian finished 26-12 in the regular season and 10-2 in district play. Both of the district losses came against Red Oak.
The Lady Panthers were the first to 10 in the opening set, after a pair of Lady Hawk errors put Midlothian up, 10-5. A third consecutive error forced Red Oak head volleyball coach Hope Porter to call her first timeout of the match.
Kendra Mcruffin then tipped a Carley Rushing set over a tandem block out of the break for a Lady Hawk point, but an errant back-row attempt, error and tipped ball out of bounds had Midlothian comfortably on top, 14-6.
The Lady Hawks then pieced together a 7-2 run to pull within three, 16-13, and forced the first Midlothian timeout of the opening set.
Fueled by four Lady Hawk errors, the Lady Panthers snatched the momentum back and carried a 24-18 advantage into the second Red Oak timeout.
A fifth error out of the break ended the set with the Lady Panthers on top, 25-18.
"We were very, very high error in the first set and I told them between sets that if we don't fix ourselves then we don't stand a chance," Porter recalled after the match. "We made 18 errors in the first set and they scored 25 points. I told the girls that if we keep giving them 18 points then their job is not very hard. I thought we cleaned it up and started passing serves better and eliminated some hitting errors."
Skylor Lewis began the second set with an ace for the Lady Panthers, but Red Oak eventually took an early lead, 4-3. Kaylie Vasil then terminated a Midlothian point to know the second set at 4-all.
Backed by stellar front-row play by Katelyn Malone, Zanobia Williams and Kendra Mcruffin, the Lady Hawks went on a 7-3 run to run take an 11-7 advantage into the first Midlothian timeout of the second set.
Midlothian eventually tied the match at 20 and then took the lead at 21-20 — both points coming on Red Oak errors.
The Lady Hawks were the first to 24, though, being pushed to set-point by a Lady Panther service error that put Red Oak up one, 24-23
An errant kill attempt gave Red Oak the second set on the following serve.
The Lady Hawks then rolled in set three, 25-11.
Midlothian took an early lead in set four, but a pair of Hunt kills and another by Megan O'Neal put Red Oak up, 15-12, midway through the set.
The Lady Panthers were far from quitting though, as they battled back to tie the set at 19-all.
The outstanding play of the final set came a couple of serves later when Emily Smith dove to her right on the back row for a dig that made its way over to the Midlothian side. A Lady Panther error two touches later then put Red Oak on top, 22-20.
The Lady Hawks eventually won the fourth set and the match on a Midlothian hitting error, 25-21.
Junior outside hitter Hailey Hunt led the way for the Lady Hawks with 16 kills, which matched Midlothian's Samantha Rodgers for the match-high.
Hunt was followed by fellow juniors Zanobia Willis and Katelyn Malone with seven and six kills, respectively. Both Hunt and Willis recorded seven total blocks on the evening, as well.
Malone led Red Oak with 16 kills, while Emily Smith stepped up on the back row with 14 digs, as well. After the match, Porter recalled Smith playing well on the back row the last time the Lady Hawks and Panthers met. Smith also led the Lady Hawks with 21 assists on Tuesday.
"When we played them the first time, she did the same thing and I reminded her of that today," Porter said. "I told her that if she could get a few big digs back there then our chances would go way up and I thought she really stepped up for us tonight."
For Midlothian, Aryn Walton recorded a team-high 34 assists, while Karsyn Curry (15) and Kelby Buchanan (16) led the team in digs.
Neither bi-district playoff match had been set as of press time but will be held on either Monday or Tuesday.