Panthers upend Van Buren in quarterfinal round
ELDON — It didn’t take Pekin long to get up to speed Tuesday in the regional quarterfinal round vs. Van Buren.
The Panther netters showed little sign of rust following a nine-day break and knocked Van Buren from the postseason with a 25-15, 25-20, 25-13 win at Cardinal High School in Eldon.
Pekin advances to the Class 2A regional semifinals to take on Eddyville-Blakesburg (29-8), who beat Pella Christian three games to two Tuesday.
It’s the first time senior setter Leslie Stone — or even coaches Ashley Bartels and Ken Hutchinson — can remember Pekin in the postseason’s semifinals.
“It’s just amazing,” Stone said. “Pekin hasn’t gone this far for a while. It’s exciting for us.”
“That’s been a main goal of ours because I know that they haven’t made it past the first round in at least five years,” added Bartels, who has coached Pekin the last three years.
The Panthers downed Van Buren in a little over one hour thanks to big wins in the first and third sets. They rarely trailed in the match and never trailed in those games.
“In practice we’ve really tried to hit hard on starting off strong and finishing early,” said Stone, who led the Panthers with 28 assists.
Stone directed her offense to a quick double-digit lead in the first game, as the Panthers took a 17-7 lead on the kills of juniors Jessica Horras and Jacinta Cooley. Van Buren clawed back to make it a 17-13 deficit on a service run by Payten Hughes, but Pekin put together another sizable run to take the game 25-15. Van Buren’s Hanna Haynes, who was held to 11 kills and six blocks in the loss, tallied two spikes and a pair of blocks in the first game.
Bartels said Pekin’s hope going into the match was to contain Haynes, who was coming off a 25-kill, nine-block performance in the regional opener last week.
“The kids noticed she’s the only one who will hit on the team — they’ll set her every time — so we knew coming in that once we take her out, it’s hard for the rest of the team to pick up after her,” she said. “She’s a great, great player, and I think part of what happened with her is she knew she couldn’t carry her whole team.”
Another service run by Hughes handed Van Buren a 5-0 lead in the second game, but Pekin kept pace and eventually caught up at 17-all. Maranda Baker slammed a kill to hand Pekin its first lead of the game, at 20-19, and the Panthers closed out the set scoring five of the next six points.
In game three, Pekin took a 6-0 lead and again prevented the Warriors from stringing together runs of their own. Tiana Slaney scored three kills midway through the set to up Pekin’s lead to 16-6, and the Panthers only added to the advantage en route to a 25-13 win.
Stone added 12 digs to her team-high assist total, Horras had nine kills and two blocks and Cooley tacked on seven kills and four blocks to lead the Panthers.
Also for Pekin, Cheyann Lankford finished with seven kills, three aces and nine digs, Maranda Baker had seven spikes and 10 digs and Madelyn Baker came through with four kills and 10 digs. Emily Adam tallied seven digs while Slaney recorded three spikes.
For Van Buren, Haynes also had 14 digs and Hughes went 17-for-19 on serves and finished with four kills and setter Jordan Billups handed out 13 assists. Nicole Coffin chipped in seven digs from the back row and was a perfect 5-for-5 on serves.
The Warriors ended 2012 with a 13-17 record.
Pekin, meanwhile, may have to continue its season without Maranda Baker, who suffered an ankle injury midway through the third set Tuesday.
“It’ll be a big loss if we don’t have her, but we’ll have some players step up and do their best,” said Bartels.
With or without the senior leader, the Panthers continue their season Friday against Eddyville-Blakesburg in Eddyville. Start time is 7 p.m.
Pekin vs. Van Buren
PEKIN — 25, 25, 25
VAN BUREN — 15, 20, 13
DIGS — (P) Stone 12, Mad. Baker 10, Mar. Baker 10, Lankford 9, Horras 7, Adam 7; (VB) Haynes 14, Coffin 7
SERVING — (P) Lankford 16-16 (3), Mad. Baker 15-15 (2), Mar. Baker (2); (VB) Billups 9-10, Coffin 5-5
KILLS — (P) Horras 9, Lankford 7, Cooley 7, Mar. Baker 7, Mad. Baker 4, Slaney 3; (VB) Haynes 11
ASSISTS — (P) Stone 28; (VB) Billups 13
BLOCKS — (P) Cooley 4, Horras 2, Lankford 1, Mad. Baker 1; (VB) Haynes 6, Fitzsimmons 1