INDIANAPOLIS — A clean slate entering postseason play can be refreshing.
With hopes of snapping a five-game losing streak Thursday at the Heritage Christian Sectional, Eastern Hancock battled a slow start but took care of business to move to 1-0 in tournament action with a 3-0 win against Irvington Preparatory Academy.
In a balanced effort, the Royals won 25-16, 25-13, 25-10.
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Sophomore Haley Best led the defense with 11 digs, while junior Payton Hicks led the offense with seven kills and three aces.
“Going into the sectional, your emotions are all out of whack; I think we underestimated them a little in the first set,” Eastern Hancock head coach Cory Rainbolt said. “Once we get warmed up, we will be a different team the rest of the way. We definitely have to be ready to come out on Saturday.”
The Royals (13-18) will now face Heritage Christian (14-18) in Sectional 42 semifinal action Saturday at noon. The Eagles topped Indianapolis Howe 3-0 on Thursday in the first game of the evening.
Triton Central, which beat Knightstown 3-0, will play Shenandoah in the first semifinal (10 a.m.) Saturday. The championship match is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“I told the girls that (Heritage Christian) is very beatable,” Rainbolt said. “We have to bring our A-game.”
Eastern Hancock scored three straight points to open set one but were outscored 8-2 midway through, forcing Rainbolt to burn her first timeout. Sophomore Jenna Smith came out of the timeout with a kill, though, as the Royals would slowly climb back.
Two kills from Hicks would give Eastern Hancock a 13-12 lead it would not surrender. Junior setter Laurie Eells added four aces in the set, while five different Royals recorded a kill — led by four from Hicks.
Hicks and Smith complemented senior Leah Ferguson, who leads the team in kills, at the net. Ferguson has battled sickness recently but returned to the court on Thursday.
“They have been working really hard, and it showed tonight with the drills we have been doing in practice,” Rainbolt said.
Senior foreign exchange student Ada Leonelli used an ace to give Eastern Hancock a 9-4 lead in set two as the Royals came out more poised and focused.
Caitlin Richmond, a senior, extended the lead to 14-5 with back-to-back kills as Eastern Hancock had little trouble topping the Ravens, 25-13, which was capped by another Leonelli ace.
With a 2-0 match lead, the Royals stormed out to an 8-1 lead in set three, thanks to consecutive aces by Hicks. Sophomore Haley Best added another ace to give Eastern Hancock a commanding 16-7 lead en route to the sweep.
Leonelli finished with four digs, as well, while Richmond added five kills in the win.
Eastern Hancock 3, Irvington Prep 0
EH – Hicks 7 kills, 3 aces; Richmond 5 kills; Smith 3 kills; Best 11 digs; Eells 5 aces; Leonelli 4 digs, 2 aces.