BLUE EYE – It’s not hyperbole to label Blue Eye High School’s match against Billings in the finals of the Class 1 District 7 Tournament on Tuesday night like a big-time prize fight between heavyweight sluggers.
Top-seeded Billings and second-seeded Blue Eye traded haymakers for three pressure-packed sets.
In the end, 137 points were scored, 73 from Billings and 64 by Blue Eye.
The final set went overtime, with Billings converting on its third match point, advancing with a 20-25, 25-13, 28-26 victory.
It was an emotional end to a season that saw Blue Eye reach the district finals for the third consecutive season.
In the three seasons under coach Taylor Wittl, the Lady Bulldogs have lost in the district finals twice and won one district title before falling in the sectional round.
Wittl reflected on the last three seasons in the aftermath of the loss to Billings, which ended the high school careers for three Blue Eye seniors – Kohnnar Patton, Jaelyn Brown and Maddie Box.
“We got the girls interested in the game and have established the expectation to do well in postseason play,” Wittl said. “Hopefully we can continue to do so.”
Blue Eye has amassed a 69-26-5 record in the three seasons under Wittl, and perhaps her best coaching job came this season, following the loss of Taylor Arnold – the Tri-Lakes Player of the Year in 2018 – following last season.
The 2019 season included victories over 20-win teams Ava, Forsyth, Skyline and an eight-match winning streak midway through the schedule.
Blue Eye finished the season with a 24-9-1 overall record, and a loss to a powerful Billings team in the district finals.
The Lady Bulldogs put on a show in the opening set, pulling away after taking a 15-14 lead midway through the set.
Box had a kill and an ace, Riley Arnold added a pair of kills, and back-to-back kills from Patton ended the set.
Billings stormed back in the second set, going on a 16-3 run to turn a 5-3 Blue Eye lead into a 19-8 Billings advantage.
Emma Datema had a pair of kills, Bailey Groves had two kills and a block, with Lauren Herd and Baillie Williams adding two kills each in the decisive run.
Morgan Heimer took over down the stretch as Billings closed out the set, with five kills and an ace in the final run.
There were 16 ties in the final set, with neither team leading by more than two points.
Patton had a tip kill to fight off the first match point for Billings, with a kill from Kyla Warren saving a second match point with a kill to make it a 25-all score.
A hitting error by Billings gave Blue Eye a match point of its own at 26-25, but Groves posted three consecutive kills to end the match and send the Lady Wildcats into Saturday’s Class 1 sectional round.
“I know that my team gave it their all,” Wittl said. “I wish it would have ended in our favor, but they played tough, they stayed up the entire time and never backed down.
“Congrats to Billings, but I’m very proud of the way my team played.”
Patton finished with 20 kills and one ace in a dominant final match for Blue Eye, with Riley Arnold finishing with four kills and two service aces, Warren adding three kills and a block.
Avery Arnold ended up finishing with three kills and two aces, and Box chipping in with three kills and an ace.
Blue Eye advanced to the district finals with a 25-10, 25-12 victory over School of the Ozarks in the second semifinal match on Tuesday night, ending the Lady Patriots’ season with a 14-16-2 final record.
Patton had 15 kills, while Avery Arnold tallied eight to lead the Lady Bulldogs in the semifinals.