KNIGHTSTOWN — The Royals came out swinging. Literally.

Led by junior outside hitter Leah Ferguson’s eight kills, Eastern Hancock picked up its ninth win of the season Thursday in the first round of the Knightstown Sectional over an undermanned Indianapolis Howe squad.

Sophomore setter Laurie Eels tallied 11 assists for the Royals, which earned its second 3-0 win of the season over the Hornets. Eastern Hancock beat Howe, which has only nine players listed on its roster, on Aug. 24 while only allowing 19 total points.

Thursday was much of the same as the Royals won 25-4, 25-11, 25-5.

Eastern Hancock has now won two matches in a row and improved its overall record to 9-23. Head coach Cory Rainbolt said her team, which moves on to face rival Knightstown in the sectional semifinals Saturday at 12:30 p.m., came out ready to play.

“Overall the girls played well,” she said. “We did have some trouble serving, but we like to serve aggressive.”

After a decisive first set, Howe jumped out to a 3-0 second-set lead before the Royals fixed their serving woes and started pouring on the aces (16 in second set alone). Sophomore Laurie Eels gave Eastern Hancock a 4-3 lead it would never surrender with four consecutive aces en route to a 25-11 win.

Caitlin Richmond contributed six aces in the set, as well.

Ferguson put the Hornets away with six kills in the final set as the junior also added four aces. Eels and Ferguson have been a solid duo for the Royals this season, but Rainbolt said it all starts on defense.

“Ultimately, it starts in the back,” Rainbolt explained. “If we didn’t have the girls back there passing the ball, we wouldn’t have those 1-2 connections up front. It’s a team effort right now.”

Freshman libero Haley Best led the defensive effort with five digs.

“She’s spent a lot of time in the gym,” Rainbolt added.

Knightstown beat Eastern Hancock 3-1 at home earlier this season, which sets up a great semifinal match between the two schools located just miles apart.

“We’re really excited for that game,” Rainbolt said. “This sectional, we couldn’t have gotten a better draw. It should be a great game.”

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or