By BRAD KEITH
ALEDO (October 31, 2017) — In one of the most startling turnarounds imaginable, Kennedale got up from twice being knocked to the mat and knocked Stephenville right out of the state playoffs.
It was fitting the Region I-4A bi-district playoff match at Aledo High School fell on Halloween night. First Stephenville looked spooky good, then the match got scary close. And for the Honeybees, the finish was nightmare.
Kennedale won 11-25, 14-25, 25-21, 25-17, 18-16, sending Stephenville to its earliest playoff exit since dropping from what is now Conference 5A. The Honeybees reached the regional tournament in 2012 and 2015, the regional quarterfinals 2013 and 2014 and the area around last season. They were last knocked out in the opening round in 2011, their last season before moving into what is now Conference 4A.
The loss ends the high school careers of four seniors for Stephenville, third-place team from District 8-4A. Libero Hailey Martin went out with a 20-dig performance, defensive specialists Kristen Pettit and Maren Isham had six digs and four while each aced a serve and outside hitter Ashton Garner collected six kills and six digs.
District 7-4A co-champ and No. 2 seed Kennedale advances to face Graham, a 25-10, 25-9, 25-14 bi-district winner over Big Spring Tuesday.
It appeared Stephenville had regathered itself and would survive when the Bees jumped out to a 6-3 lead in the fifth, thanks largely to a pair of missiles by Jayci Morton, a junior middle blocker who had 18 kills, 5 blocks, 4 digs and a service ace.
But Kennedale had an answer, primarily in its own dominant middle. The Lady Cats reeled off seven of the next 10 points around a Stephenville timeout to take a 10-9 lead, and eventually reached match point on top 14-12.
Stephenville took its final timeout before staying alive with consecutive points, inciting Kennedale to call the final timeout of the match. The Lady Cats then led 15-14, 16-15 and 17-16 before scoring the winner, followed by their players jumping and screaming in jubilation while the Bees walked away hertbroken.
It was as is Stephenville lost its intensity in the third, right when Kennedale’s picked up. That combination led to a 180-degree turn after the Bees outscored the Lady Cats 50-25 over the opening two sets.
Kennedale won the third with five unanswered points following a 21-20 Stephenville lead on one of six kills by Garner, who also had six digs.
The Lady Cats almost ran away earlier in the set, but another five-point run was interrupted by Jaydi Griffin, a 6-1 freshman middle who fired six kills and six blocks to go with two digs.
The Lady Cats doubled up the Bees 22-11 after trailing 6-3 early in the fourth. They had a stretch of five straight points to move ahead 13-9, then scored four straight after Stephenville cut it to 14-12.
The first two sets were polar opposite.
Stephenville had a 8-0 run featuring two Morton kills, a kill and block point from Griffin and a kill by Garner for a 14-4 lead in the runaway opening set.
Kristen Pettit served an ace and Salette Rios killed two balls during a five-point run to lead 9-6 in the second. That was part of an 8-kill, 2-dig stat line by Rios, who will return one more season at outside hitter, along with classmate Chloe Goodman, who had 4 kills, 4 blocks and an ace.
It got tight at 9-8 before another Griffin kill on one of 23 assists by Gabie Lucero, who also scored a kill on an early dump and made 8 digs. Hannah Huckabee made 16 assists and 5 digs.
Stephenville finished that set on a 10-1 run and was dominating every facet of the match.
But the match was not over. For Kennedale, neither are the post season treats after tricking the Bees into post season abyss.