MOREHEAD Anyone near Rowan County Senior High School late Tuesday night may have felt some small seismic activity after a Bailey Brashear kill in Set 3 of the second 16th Region Tournament quarterfinal of the night.
As the ball rose above the net, so did Brashear, and all East Carter could do was try to stay out of the way of the sophomore’s punishing kill for the point. It was one of 10 kills for Brashear as Rowan County eased past East Carter 3-0 (28-8, 25-17, 25-19) to advance to tonight’s semifinals with Russell.
Rowan County co-coach Dusty Coyle said the big swing from Brashear destroys any energy an opponent has built.
“It tears the soul out of the other team a little bit,” Coyle said. “We gained an easy four points after that because you can see it in their eyes. They were still a little bit hurt by that attack.”
Rowan County put down several big swings in the match, but none as big as Brashear, who slammed home two of the final three points to clinch the win for the Valkyries.
“If I know it’s right where I want it to be, I’m going to put it somewhere smart and just slam it down,” Brashear said. “Me and Maddie (Roar) were really on. We have been working in practice on our shots and I think that really showed tonight.”
But Brashear was not the only big hitter getting balls down for the Valkyries, as Kylie Breeze and Riley Hall worked the outsides to force the Lady Raiders to pick their poison.
“I think it threw (East Carter) off making their block,” Breeze said. “When they pull off (the block) because they think (Bailey) is hitting, I only have that one blocker to swing over. That usually gets me pretty good kills on that.”
Breeze turned in five kills in the match while Hall added seven from the opposite pin.
“It takes the workload off when both (outsides) are on,” Brashear said. “They are going to get the set and are going to do something smart with it. I’m grateful we have two middles that when they’re on, they’re on.”
Coyle agreed with both players’ takes on the outcome, pointing to the success of both positions’ performance.
“When we are effective and can be in system, people have to key in on our middles very well,” he said. “They can move around very well and when that happens, we can really start to spread the ball a little bit more to single coverage block which is a lot easier to put the ball down.”
Rowan County made quick work of East Carter in the opening set, closing on a 16-4 run for the early lead. Sets two and three saw both teams trading punches until Rowan County pulled away in the end.
“You are going to be pressured, but the way you look at great teams and great athletes is, how do they respond to that pressure?” Coyle said. “We have a very experienced and mature team. I expect that from them. East is a very young team and I expected that nervous first set from them and they got bolder with every set.”
Jascie Greene led the Lady Raiders’ attack at the net with five kills.
With the win, a rematch of the Oct. 1 contest at Russell is solidified, setting up a showdown that Coyle knew was coming before the brackets were drawn. When talking with Russell coach Tiffany Perry at the draw meeting, they joked about the chances they would actually land on the same side of the bracket.
“She said 70 percent and I said, you’re crazy,” Coyle laughed. “It’s more like 90. Sure enough, we draw each other. We are just meant to play each other every regional tournament.”
Coyle added: “Russell has been a regional spoiler for us for over a decade. It’s only been in the last few years that we’ve been able to finish that.”
Rowan County has swept Russell in its last two region meetings, last year in the semifinals at Fairview and in the championship in 2017.
But tonight’s contest will play on the Valkyries’ home floor, a place that Brashear knows is not an intimidation factor for the Lady Devils.
“In the past three years, the only game we have lost on our home floor is Russell,” Brashear said. “It’s pressure on us but it’s also pressure on them. Our student section was packed but Russell had a lot of fans, too, so it’s going to be a loud gym.”