CHARLOTTESVILLE — Walking with her parents on Senior Night, Leah Ferguson’s favorite high school memory was announced over the loud speakers Tuesday at Eastern Hancock.
As “beating Knightstown in sectional play last season” was read by the Royals’ public address announcer, a small cheer let loose around the gymnasium. Ferguson and Eastern Hancock takes this rivalry seriously.
They did again Tuesday, as well, despite dropping the opening set to the visiting Panthers. The Royals bounced back and won three straight sets to earn their fifth victory (3-1) in eight contests.
Eastern Hancock (11-13) won 14-25, 25-16, 25-14, 25-18.
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“The girls are just great,” Royals head coach Cory Rainbolt said. “Knightstown definitely did their homework and exposed our weak points.”
Senior Leah Ferguson, who entered the match with 125 kills this season, led the team again on Tuesday with eight. Senior Caitlin Richmond contributed four kills in the win, as well. Ferguson has started the last three seasons for the Royals while Richmond has started the last two.
“It was nice to have their leadership,” Rainbolt said.
The opening set was back and forth with both teams locked at 10-all midway through. A 4-0 run by the Panthers (7-20) warranted an Eastern Hancock timeout at 14-10, though, and the Royals simply never recovered after as Knightstown used a 9-0 run at the end of the set to win, 25-14.
“The first set we struggled all the way around,” Rainbolt explained. “I kind of expected that (with the atmosphere).”
After another relatively slow start in set two, Eastern Hancock found rhythm and used a 6-1 run to take a 14-11 lead after a Haley Best ace.
Best, who ranks in the top three in Hancock County with 287 digs this season, prior to Tuesday’s match, finished with 18 digs and three aces on Tuesday.
The third frame was all Eastern Hancock.
A 5-2 lead turned in a 9-3 advantage, quickly, forcing the visitors to burn a timeout to regroup. However, it did the opposite as the Royals used three aces by Best and a Ferguson kill — with the score at 16-8 — to take a convincing 25-14 win.
Knightstown led 8-3 in the fourth set, but Eastern Hancock slowly worked its way back at 10-9 before eventually pulling away.
Junior Laurie Eells and sophomore Eriel Truitt provided a solid 1-2 punch at the setter position Tuesday as Eells finished with 13 assists. Truitt helped spark a run in the second set to help Eastern Hancock grab momentum and never let go.
“When (Truitt) is in, our team is a lot quicker,” Rainbolt added.
Royals’ veterans Kayli Lewman and Ada Leonelli, a foreign exchange student, were also celebrated for their dedication to the program on Senior Night.
Eastern Hancock will play again Thursday at Waldron. The Royals also host the Hancock County tournament Saturday.
Knightstown 1, Eastern Hancock 3
EH – Ferguson eight kills, Richmond four kills, Best 18 digs, three aces, Eells 13 assists, Hicks 4 aces.