A couple of quick jabs. Then a stunner. Then a haymaker.
Shepard put T.F. South away so quickly Tuesday in Game 1 it was hard to believe it was supposed to be a matchup between two South Suburban heavyweights.
Game 2? Different story. Shepard won again, but not without a spirited effort by the host Rebels.
The bottom line after the Astros’ 25-8, 25-22 victory was, one team obviously came a little more ready to play.
“We were very excited as a team,” Shepard outside hitter Abbey Graham said. “We were just really ready. This year we’re focusing on coming out strong. And we have a good connection together on and off the court, and it helps.”
Shepard (9-2, 4-0) maintained its spot atop the South Suburban Red behind Kendall Yerkes (10 kills, 4 aces), Abbey Graham (8 kills, 10 digs) and Caroline Graham (16 assists).
T.F. South (8-4, 3-1) was led by Briana Lilly (5 kills), Crystal Lee (4 kills, 4 aces) and Molly Zupan (16 digs).
The two teams traded a few punches at the outset before a service error by T.F. South put Nikki Alex at the line for Shepard. A block by Amanda Carberry started a burst of points by the Astros that included three kills by Yerkes and an ace by Alex.
The knockout came during a 12-0 run fueled by three kills by Abbey Graham and three aces by Yerkes.
“We have been working on serves a lot this year,” Yerkes said. “It’s a really big element in the game, and can definitely be a game-changer by keeping the ball in and getting aces.”
T.F. South, which did little to help itself in Game 1, seemingly sprang to life in Game 2, especially Lee, whose jump serve was good for three aces during a run that left the Rebels in front 10-6.
Abbey Graham didn’t let them get away, however, striking several times from the left side to put the Astros back in front 14-12.
“My passers (Yerkes and Abby Newsome) and my setter (Caroline Graham), they always put me in really good positions,” Graham said.
From there, neither team led by more than two points until Shepard pulled away from a 22-all tie via a kill down the left line by Abbey Graham, another one out of the back row by Yerkes and a match-ending unforced error by T.F. South.
“We just could not get it together to pass and that was the difference in the first game,” Rebels coach Kim Sands said. “We just weren’t moving our feet. We were very — blah. They were just not ready to go.
“The second game they played much better, but we still struggled with serve-receive and didn’t adjust very well when they were hitting. Little adjustments would have made the difference.”