NEW CASTLE — All the motivation the Greenfield-Central Cougars volleyball team needed Thursday night was back on the wall inside their home gym.
“The last sectional year we have on our banner in the gym is 1987,” Greenfield-Central head coach Batton emphasized. “I told the girls, ‘It’s time to change that.’ It’s time for these girls to leave their legacy and show what they’re capable of.”
The Class 4A Cougars made their postseason intentions known inside the New Castle Chrysler Fieldhouse as they swept Pendleton Heights 3-0 during the Sectional 9 quarterfinals.
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Greenfield-Central will now face Richmond (21-11) in the semifinals at 11 a.m. on Saturday. The Red Devils knocked off host New Castle (19-16) in the quarterfinals with a five-set win 25-21, 25-23, 25-27, 11-25, 15-8.
The Cougars jumped out fast in their first playoff match, winning the first two sets 25-11 and 25-9, but the Arabians challenged in the third, taking an early lead, before falling 25-18.
The Cougars (20-11) defeated the Arabians (8-18) on Oct. 1 with a 3-0 sweep. Despite the previous win, Batton’s squad wasn’t taking any chances.
“It’s difficult to beat a team multiple times, especially because they come in with a vengeance,” Batton said. “Often times teams that have won, come in passively, but we came in saying, ‘this is a new season. This is where we start and have worked toward all season long.’”
The triple-threat of senior Rachel Irbe and juniors Laura Banton and Emily Diehr were on target from the start as Greenfield-Central led the first set 22-8.
Banton laced three straight kills to put the Cougars up 16-8 and Irbe added two serving aces to four kills in the set before Diehr crushed two kills and recorded a solo block for match point.
The Cougars’ front row defense was stingy with Diehr lending a hand with six blocks. She entered the postseason with 77 total blocks.
Irbe, Banton, Madison Wise and Molly Broome neutralized Pendleton Heights’ top hitters — Ashley King (126 kills) and Aubree Lanman (145 kills) — tip blocking and redirecting throughout.
“That’s something we worked on this past week. I think in our last match we had 79 percent blocking errors. We just can’t come in here and do that, so we spent a lot of time on coverage and blocking,” Batton said. “We wanted to make sure we were as solid defensively as we are offensively.”
Irbe, Diehr and Banton provided the scoring, combining for 36 kills. Irbe, who led the team with 363 kills during the regular season, hammered down the match’s final point with her 14th kill and fourth consecutive to finish the third set.
Banton supplied 15 kills, including seven in the first set to stoke her team’s intensity.
“Our team relies on a lot of momentum and heart,” Diehr said. “Without it we usually start slow, so we really need to go out there and go for it fast. We did that right away.”
Finishing runner-up to Mt. Vernon (27-4) in the Hancock County Tournament, Greenfield-Central will need to potentially get past the favored Marauders in the finals Saturday night to quench their championship drought.
The Cougars lost to Mt. Vernon twice (2-0 and 3-0) but also beat them 2-1 during the Cougar Challenge in late September.
First things first, though. Falling to Richmond 3-2 in late August during the regular-season, the Cougars are anxious to avenge their past shortcoming.
“(They) beat us before, but if we come out with a lot of energy and play like I know we can, we have a really good chance against them,” Diehr said. “It’s been a really long time since we won sectional, and I want it really, really bad. I just want to be able to say, I was part of that team that finally got it. That would be awesome.”