And survival was required Tuesday night as the fourth-ranked Lady Raiders fended off a smart-serving fifth-ranked Lassiter team to win 27-25, 24-21 in an Area 1AAAAA match.
Both teams swept past area opponents Wheeler and Cherokee earlier in the evening.
Like Lassiter, it turns out Walton has a few smart servers, too, and that’s what it took for the Lady Raiders to get separation late in the second set.
Clinging to an 18-15 lead, Kelly Murphy started hitting soft serves that Lassiter couldn’t solve. Her first attempt set up an Isabella Haswell kill on a free ball. The second was an ace, and the third resulted in a Lassiter error on serve-receive and a 21-15 Walton lead.
Although Lassiter made plays to keep it close, a six-point deficit was too much to overcome. The Lady Trojans showed signs of hope when Sam Morely and Becca Ledford blocked a Walton attack to cut the lead to 23-20, but a couple more Lassiter miscues secured the win for Walton.
“After we got back from Durango, and lost a lot of close matches, it was nice to see us respond,” Walton coach Suzanne Fitzgerald said. “Lassiter put us in that same situation, and it was about digging in and finishing.”
Murphy led the Lady Raiders with 13 kills, Chloe Cook added five and Katherine Plessy and Morgan Patterson each had four. Haswell finished with 23 assists.
Lassiter didn’t produce the high offensive numbers Walton did. Becca Arndt and Carly Crowder led with six kills each, and they had a combined five aces. Ellen Handlan had 14 assists and four kills.
The Lady Trojans found success against Walton by using their serves to throw Walton off balance on serve-receive. They also played sound defense, which helped inflict a few Walton errors.
A successful service run by Arndt, highlighted by two aces, erased a 6-1 deficit. The Lady Trojans kept battling back and eventually tied Walton at 12-all and 13-all before taking their first lead at 16-15 on a Crowder kill.
Afterwards, the teams exchanged ties and leads three times before Lassiter gained set points at 24-23 and 25-24. But Walton saved both set points on first-ball kills before ultimately prevailing.
“If you can serve tough, you can take them out of their offense or limit their options,” Lassiter coach Greg Hodge said. “There were times when we didn’t hit a tough serve, and they used the firepower they had.”
The Lady Raiders set the tone in the second set by jumping to quick 2-0 lead on serve, but they never held a lead of more than four points until Murphy caught the Lady Trojans off guard with her soft serves.