MOUNTAIN HOME – The Benton Lady Panthers saw their season come to an end in the semifinals of the Class 6A State Volleyball Tournament on Thursday, dropping a four-set match to the Mountain Home Lady Bombers 13-25, 18-25, 25-20 and 24-26.
The Lady Panthers finished the year with a 17-9 record with a 6A-South Conference championship. The Lady Bombers, the same team to knock Benton from the playoffs last season, improved to 25-4 overall and advanced to Saturday’s state championship match at Conway High School.
Benton had 43 kills and seven blocks in the match while Mountain Home finished with 50 kills and three blocks. Alex Williams led the Lady Panthers with 12 kills and a block while Kristen Ryan had 11 kills and five blocks, doing a good job of keeping Mountain Home’s top hitter Katie Kapler from getting on a roll in the last two games.
“We just had to survive after the first two games,” said Benton coach Brandy Chumley. “We came out ready to play and played excellent defense over the last two games, but Mountain Home just didn’t make as many silly errors as we did. I think if we had just eliminated those we would have won. But Mountain Home is a good team and they played well. They got the points when they needed them.”
Benton was on the verge of sending the match to a fifth and deciding game, leading 24-19 in the fourth game after a kill by Allison Reynolds. But the Lady Panthers gave the serve back to Mountain Home on hit that went out of bounds. Mountain Home libero Abby Molenhouse then served the final six points of the game that included a hitting error and a rotation violation by Benton plus two kills from Mountain Home’s Lindsey Harrison and one from Kapler and an ace by Molenhouse that gave the Lady Bombers the lead at 25-24, which was their first since going up 14-13.
The Lady Bombers never trailed in the opening set, scoring the first three points and bolting out to a 6-1 advantage and never trailed. Mountain Home extended its advantage to 12-4 after kills by Harrison and Emma Gist then Rachel Groesbeck’s ace made it 14-4, the first double-digit lead for Mountain Home. After that, Benton never got closer than eight points while the Lady Bombers led by as many as 14 before getting the game-winning kill from Gist.
The second game was closer although the Lady Bombers never trailed after they took the lead at 5-4. Benton scored the first point of the set for its first lead of the match and led 4-3 on a kill by Alex Williams. Two Benton errors gave the lead to Mountain Home and a kill by Harrison made it 6-4.
The Lady Bombers extended its advantage to 13-8 after a kill by Hannah Cotter and Benton cut the lead to three several times before Mountain Home scored five of the game’s final points, including two kills by Hannah Cotter and one by Gist.
The two teams went back and forth to start the third set before Benton opened up a 10-7 lead on an ace by Alicia Sandage. Mountain Home responded with a 5-0 run, getting kills by Gist and Harrison plus an ace from Molenhouse for a 12-10 edge.
But the Lady Panthers responded with a 10-4 run, getting kills from Ryan, Williams and Reynolds then two errors by the Lady Bombers for a 20-16 lead. The teams traded points until Benton scored the final two, the last on a dink by Williams.
The fourth game was much like the third, as Benton opened up an 8-4 lead early before Mountain Home rallied for a 14-13 lead on a kill by Cotter. Benton then seemed to take control with an 8-2 run for a 21-15 lead.
Kapler finished with 17 kills and block while Harrison had 15 kills to lead Mountain Home.