It was a memorable season for the Seward County Lady Saints in 2015, but all good things must come to an end at some point in time and that time was Sunday night for Seward as they defeated Cloud County in Region VI Semifinal number two to punch their ticket to the title match, but fell to #20 Hutchinson in the Region VI Tournament Championship match to end their year one win short of a trip to the NJCAA National Tournament.
Seward took on Cloud County for the third time this season in the second Region VI Tournament Semifinal of the afternoon Sunday in Hutchinson after the host Blue Dragons earned their way to the final with a 3-1 win over the Pratt Beavers. The Lady Saints came out swinging in the first, opening up an early 8-3 lead on the T-Birds before Cloud roared back to tie the score midway through the first at 13. It remained a nip and tuck battle to 18-18 when a kill from Alex Wood broke the tie and gave the Lady Saints the lead. Seward never relinquished that lead, getting another kill from Wood to stretch their lead to four before Viviane Viana put one away to give the Lady Saints the set 25-21.
With Viana at the service line to start the second, the Lady Saints got off to another quick start, jumping ahead 5-0 to begin play. After Cloud made a run to get back into things, the Lady Saints pushed again, using a 4-0 midway through to go back in front 18-13 following back to back aces from Megan Sharratt. Just when it looked like they were smooth sailing to a 2-0 lead in the match, the Lady Saints went ice cold. Cloud scored 9 of the next 10 points in the set, helped by a rash of Seward County errors to take a 22-19 lead of their own. Seward never recovered as the T-Birds finished them off 25-23 to even the match at one.
The all-important third set was highly contested early on as Seward and Cloud were tied at four, eight, and then 12 at the midway point of the period. A 4-1 Seward run at that point pushed them ahead 16-13 and they remained in front by three at 19-16 following a kill from Maritza Mesa. Cloud County drew back to within one later in the set following a Seward service error, but another Mesa kill gave the Lady Saints a 21-19 advantage. The T-Birds again cut the Lady Saints lead to one at 22-21, but a kill from Sharratt in the middle, another one by Wood on the outside and a huge block from Kaysie Paxton and Sharratt cinched the win for Seward 25-21.
To begin the fourth set, it looked like the match was headed to the fifth as Seward failed to capitalize on their momentum from the close of the third while the T-Birds came out swinging with their backs to the wall and their season on the line. Cloud jumped out to an early 9-5 lead before the Lady Saints stormed back, scoring 9 of the next 11 points to take a 14-11 lead in the middle of the set. The T-Birds came back to tie the score at 16 and it remained a knotted up contest to 18-18. In the biggest two points of the set, the Lady Saints block came up huge as Sharratt combined with Wood on one stuff and Mesa on another to put Seward ahead 20-18. The Lady Saints didn't look back from there, pushing hard to the finish line to win 25-21 to take the match 3-1 and earn their way into the Region VI Tournament Championship match for the first time in four seasons.
It wasn't an overly impressive offensive match for Seward as they hit just .231 as a team, but the Lady Saints defense was huge, picking up 60 digs while sending back 11 Cloud attacks with stuff blocks. 51 of Seward's 54 kills in the match came from the quartet of Wood, Viana, Sharratt, and Mesa as Wood banged home a match high 15 kills to go along with a team best 16 digs while Viana, Sharratt, and Mesa each had 12 kills in the win. Jade Piper dished out a team best 27 assists for the Lady Saints while Amanda Pereira had 19 assists for the victorious gals in green.
The win moved Seward to 26-14 on the year while Cloud finishes their season with their most victories since the 2000 season with a 22-12 record.
The table was set and it was all on the line as the Lady Saints squared off against the rival Hutchinson Blue Dragons in the Region VI Championship match. The first set was well played by both sides as the top seeded Lady Dragons and the second seeded Lady Saints went back and forth against each other trading blows. Seward held two point advantages at three different points in the early portion of the set, but couldn't push their lead any bigger against the powerful Dragon front line. Hutch came back to tie the score at 15 and the score remained deadlocked to 20-20 moments later. A kill from Wood broke the tie, but Hutch caught back up at 22-22 as both sides desperately battled to take the important first set. A Dragon kill followed by a Lady Saint ball handling error gave Hutchinson two shots at their first set point, but Seward fought both attempts off as the Dragons tried twice to go to Liberal native Jai Chapman on the outside and both times Mesa and Belissa Guidotti were there waiting for her, sending back ringing blocks on both occasions to tie the score at 24. Another big block, this time on the right side by Viana gave Seward a crack at a set point of their own but the Dragons sided out to even the count at 25. The Lady Saints second ball handling mistake late in the set gave Hutch their third chance to close the set and this time they did, using a Seward attack long to pull off the come from behind 27-25 win to go up 1-0 in the match.
The Lady Saints got off to a good start in the second, scoring the first three points of the period, but Hutch came roaring back to tie the score at three and then after the count remained tied at 6-6, Hutch pushed seven straight points against a bewildered Lady Saints lineup to take a commanding 13-6 lead. The Lady Saints regained their footing to make it 13-11, but another Dragon push made it 19-13 and put the set out of reach. The Lady Saints never recovered as the Dragons coasted to the finish line, taking the set 25-17 and taking a stranglehold on the match with a 2-0 lead. Seward struggled mightily offensively in the period, recording just eight kills while registering nine errors to hit -.025 for the set.
Like they did in the second, Seward tried to play catchup again in the third early on. Hutch raced out to a 10-6 lead and then went up 15-8 after back to back blocks. The Lady Saints couldn't shake off the miscues as they fell behind 21-12 before fighting hard to the end, but it wasn't enough as Hutchinson finished them off 25-17 again to win the set and capture their fourth straight Region VI Championship with a 3-0 victory.
Seward managed just 30 kills and a .111 hitting percentage in the match against the big Blue Dragon block. The Lady Saints got eight kills each from Wood and Viana but the tough Hutchinson serve rendered the middle almost non-existent for the Lady Saints as they had just 12 total swings and five kills from that spot on the court.
The loss ends the Lady Saints 2015 campaign at 26-15 overall, which marks the programs most wins since the 2009 season. "While I obviously would have loved to be in a different situation right now" Seward Head Coach Thais Baziquetto-Allen said after the defeat "I want my girls to understand that one loss doesn't take away from what they were able to do this season. We made a lot of progress as the season went along and our sophomores have a lot to be proud of while our freshman know where they have to get for next year now" she finished.