By PATRICK CASEY
The Walton Lady Braves survived a furious rally by Tallahassee Godby on Oct. 30 as the host squad captured a five set win over the Cougars in an opening round Class 4A state volleyball playoff game.
The Braves won the match 25-16, 25-15, 23-25, 20-25 and 15-10 in front of a home crowd that witnessed the Braves’ first home playoff game since the 2002 season.
Walton took the opening set 25-16 as the Braves held a 15-13 lead midway through the stanza behind the strong serves of senior Camri Thomas and several kills from freshman Ashley Harper at the net. Walton pushed the lead to 22-14 behind Thomas’ serves and earned a 1-0 set lead by winning three of the last five points.
Walton(18-5) trailed Godby 11-7 in the second set but went on a 9-0 run as Harper got hot at the net again. Thomas continued her success with several points from the service line as Shalyn Bailey, Courtney Brown and Sierra Contreras combined to lead the Braves to a 25-15 victory.
The Braves fell behind 15-9 in the third set but rallied to knot the match at 20-all with a chance to sweep the visiting team as Harper played well at both the net and with several serves to help the home team rally. Sophomore Haley Paulk also contributed several service points as the Braves tried to swing the momentum shift.
Godby would not go away, however, as senior Lauren Beltz and junior Lane Mosteller worked the corners to help the Cougars stay alive with a 25-23 victory. Mosteller finished the night with 32 kills, 20 assists and 19 digs while Beltz had 18 kills and 28 assists..
The Cougars held a 15-11 lead in the fourth set as the Braves attempted to rally behind Contreras’ serves, closing to within 21-19 before Godby pulled away for a 25-20 victory to force a fifth and deciding set.
Godby(16-10) won the toss and took the serve while Walton returned to the home side of the floor. The two teams split the first 10 points with the Braves earning an 8-6 advantage due to a mishit serve into the net by the visiting team. Camri Thomas followed with a pair of kills to stretch the lead to 10-6 and a few moments later Harper struck again for a 12-7 margin. Godby closed within 13-9 but Harper added another kill and when Ashlyn Davis’ serve went into the net the Braves joyously celebrated a 15-10 win in the final set.
“The pace of the game gave us some problems in the third and fourth set,” assistant coach Terri Jenkins said after the match. “We got a little out of sync but our seniors stayed calm and Ashley Harper made enough kills to help us pull this one out.”
Head coach Marla Harrell added, “It was a huge win for us. We nearly closed it out in the third set, then struggled in the fourth. We have played so many five-set matches this season that we are used to having to battle in long matches.”
Team Notes: Marla Harrell is now 119-80 as head coach after the Braves’ victory over Godby in eight seasons at Walton. Walton is 0-3 versus Florida High in the state playoffs with the Seminoles having ended their playoff runs in 2002, 2004 and 2011. Walton has had to travel to face Florida High in the playoffs all four times the squads have been matched together in the playoffs (including 2012). The Braves are 7-1 this season in matches that have gone five sets. Walton is 6-8 in nine playoff appearances entering the Florida High match on Nov. 6. Details of that game were not available at press time. A Walton victory over Florida High would give the Braves two wins in the playoffs for the first time since 1998 and send them to only the second Region Final in the sport in school history.