No. 8 White Oak Punches Ticket to Regionals With Hard-Fought, Five-Game Win Over Troup
LINDALE -- White Oak knew it wasn't going to be easy. And that, in itself, may have made all the difference Tuesday night.
The eighth-ranked Ladynecks advanced to yet another regional tournament with a thrilling 26-28, 25-19, 25-21, 16-25, 15-8 victory over Troup in their Class 2A Region III quarterfinal playoff at Lindale High School.
"They definitely fought, they did not give up," said White Oak senior middle blocker Rebecca Green of Troup. "And they put a lot of pressure on us, and we knew it was going to be like this. We knew that we had to fight through this game."
White Oak (34-8) is now two wins shy of reaching the state tournament for the fifth consecutive season. The Ladynecks will play Crawford at 8 p.m. Friday at Longview's Lobo Coliseum in one regional semifinal. Friday's winner will play either Franklin or Palestine Westwood on Saturday for a berth at state.
"We knew that Troup was going to come in and give us their all," said first-year White Oak coach Nicole Thorn. "They're a great team and the played great defense tonight. We knew that we were going to have to win the serving and passing battle, and we struggled with that a little bit. But I am so proud of our team, staying patient and trusting each other and never giving up."
White Oak was led by Green's 16 kills and four blocks. Her consecutive kills in the fifth game began a 4-0 run that closed out the match.
"I think it just kind of clicked in our heads that if we did lose we're done, and we did not want to lose; we want to go win state, that is our goal this year," Green said. "We just went out and played our hearts out."
Audrey Lunstedt added seven kills for White Oak, Madison Pecot had six, Missy Billingslea and Taylor Tramel had four kills apiece and Cayman Sutton dished out 23 assists to go along with four kills and two aces.
"When we pass and are able to get the ball to our middles, that opens up a lot on the outside," Thorn said. "And we did a much better job buckling down and getting the ball into our setters and that enabled us to get the ball to our middles."
The White Oak victory overshadowed a tremendous performance by Troup junior outside hitter Josee Ross, who finished with a match-high 21 kills -- nine of which came in Game 4 with the Lady Tigers (27-14) trailing the match, 2-1.
"She's a great player," Thorn said of Ross. "And we knew that if we were going to win we would need to be able to contain her and stop her because she's that good. (Setter) Carly Dyess does a great job of getting her hitters involved, and (Ross) is a huge factor and someone to reckon with for sure."
Cheney Cover added 16 kills, and Dyess led all players with 43 assists, while adding two kills and three aces. Monet Hale had four kills and four aces, while Paeton Nolan and Caitlyn Vickers combined for seven kills.
Troup rushed out to an 11-3 lead in Game 1, and led 19-13 before White Oak reeled off five consecutive points and took a 26-25 lead with a Sutton tip over the net. Troup, however, was able to secure a 1-0 lead by scoring the game's next three points.
"I think that was huge," Thorn said of her team's rally in the first game. "For us to dig deep and fight through and not give them that last point or whatever … it was hard for us to lose that game, but we knew that if we believed and trusted in each other we would be able to win the second game, and that's what we did."
The Ladynecks led for most of Game 2, and after having their lead cut to 11-10, scored four straight points and never led by less than three the rest of the game.
The third game went back and forth. A 7-1 run gave White Oak a 9-5 lead, but Troup rallied for seven of the next eight points for a 12-10 advantage, thanks in large measure to three consecutive aces by Hale. The game stayed within two points until White Oak's 4-0 run put the Ladynecks in front, 20-17. Troup responded to even the game at 21-21, but White Oak scored the final points, highlighted by a block and two kills from Green.
Troup dominated Game 4, which started with an 8-2 run. White Oak never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
"Troup did a great job of fighting because they could've given up after we won Game 3," Thorn said.
The fifth game was nip-and-tuck at the outset, but with Troup leading 7-6, White Oak took charge by scoring nine of the game's final 10 points to claim victory.
"The competition's going to get a lot better, and all year we've taken it one game at a time and that's what we'll continue to do," Thorn said. "We're going to go back to the game film, see what we did well tonight and see how we need to get better in the next three days."