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With Category 4 Hurricane Florence barreling towards the North Carolina coast, North Johnston High senior Blayke Batten noted that several of her teammates weren’t feeling well entering Tuesday’s 2-A Eastern Plains Conference opener with Beddingfield.
Veteran Lady Panthers head coach Nicole Davis wasn’t aware of any physical ailments circulating around her team following a 25-11, 25-19, 12-25, 25-21 win in the Lady Bruins’ gym — one that saw North Johnston pull away late in the fourth set on the strength of Batten’s serving. A line call on an ace that kicked off the final 11 points flustered Beddingfield.
But while the Lady Panthers (5-3) may have been distracted off the court, it didn’t show after NJ recovered from a poor third set.
“Honestly, I think it has to do with the storm,” Davis said of her team’s mental state. “A lot of the girls are scared, and they’re very anxious about what’s coming. I spent some time out on the court in the pregame telling them we’ve seen storms like this before, and we’re going to be OK.”
After losing the first two sets, Beddingfield (6-3) roared back to win the third set and battled to an 18-18 tie in the fourth. North Johnston’s Amberlyn Pearce stepped to the service line and sent a deep serve that was called in by the line judge.
Beddingfield libero Kaitlin Abrams audibly disputed the call and was summoned over for a conversation with the tower official. At the end, Abrams was assessed a yellow card.
However, a service error tied it at 19, and Abrams’ serving gave the Lady Bruins a 21-19 edge. But Beddingfield lost its serve, putting the match in the hands of Batten from the service line. She produced four aces in five points before handing it back to the Lady Bruins at 24-22. Unfortunately for the Lady Bruins, a service error of their own ended the match.
“It definitely got into our heads,” Beddingfield head coach Kelly Vinson said of the fourth-set line call. “And that became very obvious really quick. They were just able to capitalize on that. I did love the way that they came back and fought. But we can’t allow a line judge or a referee to have that much control of the game. We’re all going to make mistakes. I said them making a mistake on a call is just like you serving the ball into the net. They’re allowed to make their mistakes, just like you are. We’re all human. The best thing we can do is not be in that situation where it’s 18-18 going into the fourth set. If you handle your business otherwise, then we’re not in that situation.
Vinson dismissed the mental effects of Florence on the Lady Bruins.
“I think that has been us all season,” Vinson said of Beddingfield’s performance. “We have just been able to pull it out. But against them, who are so meticulous and fundamental, we just drew the short end of the stick today.”
North Johnston received strong serving from Jordyn Scott, Jessie Wall, Lindsey Massengill and Batten in the opening set. From 21-11, Batten served out the opening set.
“I just knew that I had to get my serves in to help us win the game,” Batten said of her handiwork in the fourth set. “I did it for my team.”
Pearce staked North Johnston to an 8-2 cushion in the second set, only to see the Lady Bruins close within 20-18 late. Yet an ace from Wall gave the Lady Panthers a four-point lead at 22-18, forcing a Beddingfield timeout.
A disputed kill from Batten ended the second set and put North Johnston out in front, 2-0.
Behind the middle blocking of junior Makayla Everette and the serving of Kimberly McMurray and Neleh Bottoms, Beddingfield doubled up North Johnston 20-10 in the third set. Everette’s block made it 23-12, and the Lady Bruins swiftly extended the match into a fourth set.
“We had a lot of errors,” Davis said of the third set. “I believe we lost some focus on our fundamentals being where we’re supposed to be. But that’s the one thing we talked about that fourth set, was that we had to do a better job of getting where we needed to be defensively.”
North Johnston whittled down a five-point deficit from 12-7 in the fourth and tied it twice before Pearce’s disputed ace at 18-18.
“After the bad calls, all hope was lost,” Everette said. “We just need to come back and play strong against North Pitt next time.”
But for now, next time is undefined.