Makenna Mason knows the feeling of being locked in a tense match. Her leadership proved to be the difference on Thursday night to power Hilton Head past its rivals.
The Seahawks held off a strong Bluffton performance at the Nest, defeating the Bobcats in four sets (25-20, 25-18, 22-25, 25-18) to stay unbeaten in Region 7-4A play.
“It was definitely a close game, they were a defensive team,” Mason said. “They were scrappy so it was mostly about putting the ball down and trying to find spots they weren’t in. We dropped the third set, but we fought hard and came back even stronger in the fourth to take the win.”
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Hilton Head snatched the early advantage in the initial set, as Mason set up Mallory Gilmore for easy looks, but the upstart Bobcats hung with the home side, getting production from Siobhan Rogers with a pair of kills. Gilmore and Allison Bracken continued to make their presence known for the home side with their hitting, and both Gilmore and Julianna Vega combined on a key block to up the home lead to 20-13. Bluffton went on a mini-run to cut the advantage to four, but Hilton Head’s strong defending and passing held off the Bobcats for the first-set victory.
The Seahawks dominated the second set, scoring the first five points of the match thanks to a Gilmore kill and a Leah Jackson ace. Bluffton came roaring back to tie it at 7 after several unforced errors, but Hilton Head regained its separation on the strength of its stellar serving. A few more Seahawk mistakes let the Bobcats hang around before the home side closed out the set in front of a roaring crowd.
Those fans were expecting a quick and easy third set, but it wasn’t to be. A young and resilient Bobcat team fought back, storming out to an early 10-5 advantage. Hilton Head saw a lapse in focus through most of the set, and Bluffton took advantage with strong play from Kaela Morillo and Emili Gutierrez for a commanding 16-7 lead. The Seahawks made a late rally to tie it at 22 as the student section surged to life, but Bluffton rattled off three straight to force the match to a fourth set.
After a back-and-forth start, Mason’s leadership and talent showed up at the right time. The senior veteran displayed her passing prowess and elevated her side over the top as Gilmore and Kenzie Bigger came up with clutch strikes. Bluffton hung around and clawed within 20-17, but the Seahawks executed well on their side-out opportunities to deny a late comeback. Junior Jasmin Martinez ended the contest with a bang, grazing her serve off the top of the net and onto the court to bring the house down and secure a hard-fought win.
“I think I stopped breathing for a second when I saw it hit the tape, and then I saw it roll over,” Mason said. “It was a relief.”
Hilton Head (10-6-1, 2-0) hosts Lucy Beckham in a key Region 7-4A showdown on Tuesday, while Bluffton (5-7, 0-2) plays at James Island on Tuesday.
By Wes Kerr
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