After a slow start to their season, Hancock beat Ocean Springs Tuesday 3-1 (25-16, 25-21, 22-25, 25-13) in the second round of the Class III volleyball playoffs to return to the state semifinals at Mississippi State in Starkville Thursday.
Last year, after three consecutive runner-up finishes, the Hawks (26-7) won the state title.
“It means a lot,” said Hawks coach Rick Rechtien. “After we struggled a little bit this year, it’s awesome to get back to the Final Four.”
Rechtien said injuries and illnesses early hurt the Hawks in putting out a cohesive starting unit. However, once everyone healed up, Hancock has been on a roll, winning 18 out of their last 21 games.
The Hawks will meet DeSoto Central on Thursday. The Jaguars (39-2-1) have meet Hancock twice in tournaments, winning all four games and both matches.
“We probably have the hardest road to go of any team in the playoffs,” he said. “They are a very, very good team.”
For Ocean Springs coach Brooke Engle, finishing the season in the second round for the fifth consecutive year was “disappointing.”
“I thought it was a state finals type match,” Engle said. “I was really proud of my girls coming back and winning the third match.”
Unforced Ocean Springs errors in the first two games spelled defeat early for the Greyhounds (26-10). After an Amelia Moore kill and an Abby Murrell ace, Ocean Springs was down by just one, 10-9, in the opening game of the match.
However, over the next nine points, the Greyhounds made five unforced errors as Hancock went on an 8-1 run and led 19-11 behind three Madison Ladner kills. Ocean Springs would close the gap behind a pair of Moore kills, but Hancock would get the three final points of the game on unforced errors to go up 1-0 with a 25-16 win.
The second game was close throughout despite 12 unforced errors by Ocean Springs. A pair of kills, though, by Ladner sparked a 5-1 Hawks run that pushed the Hancock lead to 18-12. Moore, two kills, and Chloe Coulter, a block and a kill, responded for Ocean Springs, but Hancock was able to close the game out behind a pair of Catie Ladner kills and a Madison Ladner kill to win 25-21 and go up 2-0.
Ocean Springs, though, would not be swept opening a 9-1 lead against Hancock in the third game. The Hawks, though, went hard after the sweep behind Bella Thoennes, who scored on two kills, two blocks, and an ace, and Madison Ladner, who added five kills and an ace. Hancock actually led 22-21, but three unforced errors and a Moore kill at the end gave the Greyhounds their first game of the night, 25-22.
The Greyhounds won the third game at the net as Ocean Springs managed eight blocks in the game, five by Kaytie Rutland.
“Ocean Springs did a really good job of blocking our shots in that game,” Rechtien said.
“I was proud of the way we came back and won the third set,” Engle said. “Not getting swept is a big deal and it showed what kind of team we are. We never quit in the game.”
But that would be as close as Ocean Springs would come as the Hawks found their service game in the fourth and final game. Amanda Kay Shubert had four of the Hawks six aces in the game as Hancock closed out with a 25-13 win.
“We really had a good game plan and we executed,” Rechtien said. “In the third game, we lost focus and we dug ourselves too big of a hole, but we played very well tonight.”
Madison Ladner led the way with 11 kills and nine digs for the Hawks. Thoennes added eight kills and Whittney Eakins and Catie Lander had six kills each. Destiny Hariel dug 12 balls out and Shubert added seven digs, four aces, and served 20 points.
Moore had seven kills, seven digs, and three aces to pace Ocean Springs. Coulter finished with seven kills while Rutland added six blocks and four kills. Kennedy Bahr kept Ocean Springs close with 25 digs while Amberly Blowers added five kills and Abby Chapman five blocks.