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Lady Tigers make history at Area Tournament

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
They left room in their record book for bigger and better accomplishments down the road, but the T.R. Miller Lady Tigers volleyball team notched two significant items at Monday's Class 3A Area 1 Tournament at Clarke County.
For starters, the Lady Tigers notched their seventh and eighth wins of the season. That may not sound overly impressive, especially with an overall 8-15 record. However, those two wins did break T.R. Miller's school record for wins in a season. The previous mark was seven set in the program's first season of competition back in 2002.
"Considering we started the season 0-4 and we lost a couple of weeks of play due to the Hurricane, it's good to break that mark. Our overall record isn't what we wanted, but we have had more success in the back end of the schedule," T.R. Miller coach Sharon Peacock said.
Perhaps even more important was the fact the Lady Tigers kept their season alive with a second place finish. That will enable T.R. Miller to make its first ever regional appearance Saturday.
"Qualifying for the regional is what we set out to do at the Area. It's time our program experiences a regional and sees the level of play it takes to reach the state tournament. Regardless of what happens, it's a good learning experience for us," Peacock said.
Based on events early in the day, neither the school record for wins or the regional berth looked promising.
In the opening match against the W.S. Neal Lady Blue Eagles, a team T.R. Miller had beaten twice during the regular season, the Lady Tigers got an early wakeup call with a 25-23 setback.
W.S. Neal used a five-point, two-ace string by Jennifer Partridge and a five-point service string from Jullian Crutchfield to race out to a 16-9 lead.
After the slow start, T.R. Miller fought all the way back and took a 23-22 lead on a kill by Shandreka Foster on a serve by Terri Lynne Peacock.
W.S. Neal regained its composure. A defensive point tied the set and the Lady Blue Eagles got the win with a block by Maggie Crutchfield and a hitting violation by T.R. Miller.
"Losing that set was a good wakeup call because we didn't hustle like we needed to," Peacock said.
The serving of Erin Byrne helped turn the match in T.R. Miller's favor. Byrne started to heat up in the second set with seven points and four aces, as T.R. Miller evened the match with a 25-14 victory.
It was the finale where Byrne burned W.S. Neal the most. The senior middle hitter reeled off 11 points in a row, seven of them aces, as the Lady Tigers completed the match with a 25-9 triumph.
"We just didn't have anybody who could return Byrne's serves. She hit some serves at us that looked like lasers," W.S. Neal coach Kraig Rittenhouse said.
The win sent T.R. Miller to the second round where it dropped a 25-16, 25-16 decisiion to the host Clarke County Lady Bulldogs.
The Lady Tigers hung close most of the first set. They were within 16-13 after a point by Emily Layton and 20-16 after a point by Courtney Krehbiel. However, it was Clarke County's Tiffany Johnson, who burned T.R. Miller as much with her hitting as her serving, that finished things off with the final five points of the set.
Clarke County raced out to a 15-2 lead in the second set and never looked back although the Lady Tigers got as close as 23-16 late after a point by Layton.
T.R. Miller and W.S. Neal met again in match three in an elimination game and the right to play in the regional.
Unlike their first encounter where the Lady Tigers got off to the slow start, T.R. Miller pretty much led both sets from start to finish in a 25-12, 25-16 victory.
Peacock had a key five-point, three -ace string in the opener when T.R. Miller built a comfortable 16-4 advantage.
In set two, the Lady Blue Eagles hung close but could never quite get over the hump. W.S. Neal got as close as 19-18 after an ace by Partridge, but the Lady Blue Eagles managed just one defensive point the rest of the game.
The loss ended W.S. Neal's season with a 2-18 record.
"I felt we got better in a lot of areas. We were much more competitive this year and our fundamentals got better, but we probably missed that leader out on the floor to help get us through the tough situations," Rittenhouse said.
With a regional berth secured, T.R. Miller dropped the championship match rematch with Clarke County 25-9, 25-17.
The Lady Bulldogs ended the first set with a convincing 14-1 run. In the finale, T.R. Miller had an early 9-6 edge after four points by Byrne plus a block and tipped ball for a point by Foster.
Much like the first set, a big run, this one 10-1, put Clarke County ahead for good.
"I think even though we had the regional berth clinched, we didn't become satisfied with just that. We wanted to play Clarke County and I think we competed hard against them. They're just better than we are and we don't have anybody who can stop Johnson (an outside hitter)," Peacock said.
The Lady Tigers' regional foe remains unknown as well as the location. T.R. Miller plays at 10 a.m. Saturday against the Area 2 champion (Pike County, Dale County, Headland or Barbour County). The regional will most likely at Clarke County, but that site could change.