Princeton fought off six set points, survived a surprising yellow card for taunting and a raucous road environment for a four-set victory over Perquimans County Thursday night in the third round of the 1A volleyball playoffs.
In other words, it was a typical playoff outing for the Bulldogs who dispatched the Pirates with a 25-19, 15-25, 25-23, 33-31 victory. (Yes, 33-31.)
Princeton (20-4) moved into the fourth round of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season and met Pender County in a regional semifinal on Saturday.
The Bulldogs played from behind in all three of their set wins, including the third where junior middle hitter Hailey Wood was given a yellow card for what the net official thought was an excessive celebration. Wood didn’t turn away from a Perquimans player early enough when she screamed after combining with Kelsey Peedin on a block.
Princeton trailed 19-15 at the time.
“I looked at her and saw her thinking about being quiet,” Princeton coach Paige Renfrow said of Wood. “That’s when I told her if she stopped being herself, bringing that enthusiasm we needed to show after great plays, it would affect the rest of the team.”
Wood simply kept making plays, registering another block, a winning tip and two blocks during the Bulldogs’ 10-4 scoring run to end the set and take a 2-1 set advantage.
The Pirates (25-3) rode the production of senior outside hitter Amber Stallings to another lead in the fourth set, jumping ahead 17-11 and 23-17, but Princeton wouldn’t let there be a fifth set.
The Bulldogs turned that 23-17 deficit into a 25-24 lead with heady play, taking advantage of standout senior middle hitter Kasey Edwards’ run along the front line. Edwards had three kills and a key tip during Princeton’s 8-1 scoring run.
But Perquimans wouldn’t roll over easily, either. The Pirates survived until they could get Stallings back on the front line to go on the attack.
She fought off two match points with kills (at 29-28 and 30-29), then put her team ahead with a tip for a 31-10 lead.
Princeton would finish things from there. Taylor Carroll landed a brilliant kill just inside of the backline of the Pirates’ side of the court to tie things up, then on the next two points the Bulldog defense — led by libero Jenna Woodard — dug out kill attempt after kill attempt from Stallings to keep the points alive.
““We had learned that (Stallings) really only liked to hit from the corner and go cross court, so we adjusted to that,” said Princeton senior setter Charley Cox. “We really played together tonight, more than we’ve played together all season. We were right there with each other, really in tune. I knew we would find a way to win if we kept playing like that and we did.”
A pair of Perquimans kill attempts found only the net to end the match with Princeton taking a 33-31 decision.
“Our experience pulls us through in situations like this,” Renfrow said. “We know we can handle big hitting teams because we’ve seen it before. And playing Lakewood that final time at James Kenan (in the Carolina 1A Conference tournament finals) set the tone for the playoffs. We knew it was a blessing to have played a team that hits like because it would help us in the playoffs.”
It’s still helping and the Bulldogs find themselves a win away from a fourth shot at Lakewood (which met Camden County in the other regional semifinal) in the regional championship match.