Cool Big Blue captures regional championship

Pat Kenney • Nov 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM

NORTON — In the pressure cooker of the Region D volleyball finals, Gate City kept its cool.

The Lady Blue Devils, vying for their fifth straight trip to the VHSL Group A Final Four in Richmond, showed championship form in a 25-23, 25-17, 25-17 win over John Battle at J.I. Burton.

The victory earned Gate City (23-1) the right to host a state quarterfinal Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Lady Devils will take on the Region C runner-up while the Lady Trojans (19-6) must travel to the Region C champions the same night.

“It’s a huge advantage getting to play the quarterfinal match on our home floor,’’ said Gate City coach Amy Reed.

The confrontation between the Lady Devils and Lady Trojans was their fourth of the year, and Battle looked ready to stop a three-match losing streak to Gate City. In a hard-fought first game, it was the Lady Trojans — behind eight kills from junior Kelsey Griffitts — who looked sharper. They jumped out to a 10-5 lead before Gate City rallied to tie the score at 12. The Lady Devils edged ahead 17-15 only to see Battle move back on top 23-21. Battle blocked a shot out and the gap was down to one. An ace by Gate City’s Megan Reed tied the score 23-23, and she held serve on the next two points for the win. The early loss was devastating for the Lady Trojans. “We just couldn’t seem to get on top of Gate City,’’ said Battle coach Gary Griffitts. “We have to learn to cover better against them.’’

The second game was also hotly contested, with Battle building an early 8-5 lead. Once again the Lady Devils roared back. With damaging kills by Ashton Dougherty and Brittany Simpson and timely dinks from Chelsea Spivey, Gate City pulled even at 14. Kelsey Griffitts’ presence on the front line kept Gate City off balance. Her kills and blocks had the Lady Trojans thinking a win was within their grasp. Another impressive kill by Griffitts put Battle up 15-14 and had her moving to the backline to serve. But with its star on the back row, Battle became less imposing at the net.

The Lady Devils seized the moment and outscored the Trojans 11-2 the remainder of the game to take a commanding 2-0 lead.

“Experience got us through the end of that first game,’’ said Gate City senior Tessa Burton, who finished with six kills. “I think when we went on that big run in the second game, it broke their spirit.’’

While the third game was close at times, Battle seemed resigned to the inevitable. It could find no answer for the Lady Devils’ well-oiled offense.

“They were ready for us, but we stepped up tonight,’’ said Dougherty, who finished the night with 16 kills. “We’re so excited about winning region again.’’

Simpson had six monster kills for Gate City while Spivey was impeccable in the middle of the offense, dishing out 38 assists.

“Spivey got the ball to Burton well tonight,’’ Reed said. “And we finally connected with Simpson. She was a big key to our offense tonight.’’

Griffitts finished with 17 kills and 13 digs. Teammate Brittni Altmann had 30 assists.

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