Ayden-Grifton falls to Wheatmore in fourth-round five-set thriller

Ayden-Grifton falls to Wheatmore in fourth-round five-set thriller

Wheatmore’s Hope Turbyfill (6) pushes the ball past the outstretched arms of Ayden-Grifton’s Jordan Cannon during Tuesday’s NCHSAA 2A fourth-round playoff match. Photo by William “Bud” Hardy / Neuse News

Ayden-Grifton nearly had its ticket punched to Regionals — until Wheatmore took it away.

The Chargers took the first two sets of Tuesday’s NCHSAA 2A fourth-round game, but the Warriors roared back for a 21-25, 21-25, 25-21, 25-23, 17-15 victory. For the second straight year Ayden-Grifton (23-2) advanced to the fourth round and despite hosting this season, Wheatmore (25-4) came back on the top seed in the East.

“We have fought all year,” Warriors coach Sarah Beth Campbell said. “In the past, if we had gotten down by three or four points, we might’ve shut down, but in this case we felt like we had nothing to lose. We were the No. 5 seed, so we weren’t expected to beat the top seed. The girls just gave their all and we were able to find a way to win.”

Emily Dykes led the charge in the first set with two service aces and a kill to stake Ayden-Grifton to a 7-3 lead. Dykes’ kill had the Chargers ahead 16-11, but the Warriors fought, eventually tying it at 20 with a Bailey Whiteford ace. The Chargers would close the set on a 5-1 run with Dykes’ block ending it.

Wheatmore jumped out to a 5-1 advantage in the second set, but Ayden-Grifton scored nine of the next 10 points — highlighted by two Dykes blocks and a pair of Aaleyah Garris kills — to snatch momentum. The Warriors tied the game at 11 after Hope Turbyfill’s kill, but Garris would record a block on the next point before a pair of Hardy kills in a 5-0 Chargers run. When Alexia Bryant picked up a service ace to end the set, Wheatmore was on the brink of defeat.

Dykes started the third set with a block, but it would be the only lead for the Chargers in the set. The Warriors would go on a 7-1 run to take over and eventually stretch the lead to 23-12. Ayden-Grifton tried to mount a furious comeback, but it wasn’t enough. The fourth set was more of the same with Ayden-Grifton getting the first point and Wheatmore going on a 4-1 run to establish control. A Dykes kill would tie the set at 11 and after the teams traded points, Turbyfill’s kill started an 8-2 run to give the Warriors separation. The Chargers would get within 24-23 on Hardy’s kill, but Lauren Wright’s block ended the fourth set for the best-of-15 fifth.

The teams had 10 ties and five lead changes in the final set. Caroline Congleton’s service ace highlighted a 4-0 run to put Ayden-Grifton ahead 9-6, but Wheatmore fought back, eventually getting match point at 14-13 after Carson Elliott’s kill. A Warrior would touch the net to tie the game and Bryant’s subsequent kill set up match point for the Chargers.

Kennedy Powell would pick up a kill to tie the game at 15, Elliott followed with a service ace and Turbyfill ended the match with a kill of her own to send Wheatmore into the Eastern Regionals against Currituck.

 “I have no clue (how we did it),” Turbyfill said after her game-winning play. “All game I had faith in my team and I knew we could get this far. I’m so proud of them and I love what we’ve done.”

Ayden-Grifton coach Linda Bryant said a couple of factors played a big role in Tuesday’s defeat.

 “To me, it was mental errors and being a bit tired,” Bryant said. “We hadn’t played a four-game set since the beginning of the year and against West Craven (in the regular-season finale) I think we stopped playing and let them come back when it went into five. (In this game) I probably should’ve had Zion come in to block (Turbyfill) because she made a lot of great plays.”

Despite the loss of seniors Hardy, Jordan Cannon and Kristen Capizzi, Bryant said the team has potential to make noise in 2019 after winning consecutive Eastern Carolina Conference titles.

“I think we can come back,” Bryant said. “We’ll probably be a smaller team, but we’ve got a good group coming back and our JV team had a strong year. Some of them were called up and they know what to expect at this stage.”

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