SMITHFIELD — It wasn’t pretty and it may not have been easy, but the Clayton volleyball team eventually got the job done in outlasting conference rival Smithfield-Selma 3-2 (22-25, 25-16, 25-21, 22-25, 15-7) in a key Greater Neuse River 4A Conference volleyball contest Thursday night.
Kennedy Paine’s service run in the final set was the difference in the Comets’ victory—one that will steer Clayton on a collision course against West Johnston Tuesday night in what could quite possibly be a game to decide second place in the conference.
“We just had to stay the course,” said a relieved Marlon Lee, the Comets’ coach. “A few plays here and there and we were able to put them away. In that last game, Kennedy (Paine) served about seven straight points and that’s what put us ahead right there.”
The 5-foot-4 sophomore was huge for the Comets all night long and, with her seven consecutive service points in the fifth set, grabbed the momentum away from the Spartans with a commanding 8-1 lead.
The momentum entering the final set was certainly on the side of the Spartans, who rallied with an 8-1 rally to close out the fourth set 25-22 with Rachel Moore’s kill down the middle of the court forcing the fifth and final set.
For Smithfield-Selma coach Chase Crocker, who was celebrating his birthday, his wish was that his club could finally get over the hump and win a five-set match.
“I thought we had them, I really did,” admitted Crocker. “When we get in the fifth set, it seems like we’ve been there so many times that I think it’s time for us to get over the hump.
“We just got in a hole too deep and we couldn’t dig ourselves out of it.”
Smithfield-Selma has lost four of its five matches that went the distance this season.
Paine (32 assists) was the distributor throughout the match and often caught the Spartans (4-16 overall, 4-8 in conference) off guard with her backsets to the outside hitters.
Nicole Bond and Ali Orringer took turns swinging away from the wings and both players finished the night with eight kills as did Katie Lebo who did most of her damage from her middle hitter position.
Despite playing with an injured finger, Spartan setter Holly Rabil also did a good job at setting up her teammates for scoring opportunities.
But the passes that came a bit easier in the first four sets all of a sudden became tougher to connect on in the final set.
“Our passes were as good as they’ve been all year,” Crocker said of his team’s execution on offense for the first four games. “But (the passes) fell apart. You’ve got to give Clayton credit, they put some different serves on us and they were making us move.”
Moore’s six kills led the Spartans.
The Spartans travel to East Wake on Tuesday and host Southeast Raleigh Thursday night in a big match that could determine fifth place in the GNRC.
The Comets (12-7, 10-3) enter the final week of conference play alone in third place and now set their sights on the Wildcats who defeated Clayton in a five-set thriller earlier in the season.
“We’re trying to get second place on Tuesday,” said Lee of the Comets’ matchup against West Johnston. “We didn’t want to slip up tonight. It was a good win on the road and it sets up a showdown Tuesday night.”