by David Tesitor
WALSENBURG- The John Mall Panthers won a critical game Saturday, dropping the Crowley County Chargers in three games before a nearly full house, 25-23, 25-15. and 25-22. The victory gives the Panthers their second conference win, putting them one game ahead of Crowley and Rocky Ford. They face Rocky tonight with action beginning at 5 pm. A victory tonight will almost secure the Panthers a sixth place finish that will be critical in the district pairings.
From the opening serve Saturday, the team played solidly. Facing a 5-0 deficit, Natalie Neece got the side out off a monster kill. From there the Panthers clawed their way back into a 9-9 tie, off two kills by Alex Tenorio. They never looked back. The Panthers’ defense controlled the nets off the blocking of Tenorio and Angie Brietweiser. Within the set, Tenorio had four kills and two blocks, and Brietweiser had two blocks. Late in the set, offensive mistakes turned the ball over, but no team could capitalize until finally a Crowley defensive gave the Panthers the winning point.
The second game was all Panthers as the ladies dominated play, winning with ease, 25-15. The rubber match of the game appeared to be all Crowley County as the Panthers fell behind early 8-1. However, the Lady Netters overcame their apparent fatigue and dug in deep to mount their comeback.
Both teams played aggressively, trading points with no one team taking a clear advantage until Sara Encinias took to the line to serve. Trailing 19-14, John Mall’s offense took charge and took the lead 21-19 before a side out turned the ball over. Again, the teams traded points and with a score of 22-20, Tenorio had one chance to put the game away. Her jump serve went out of bounds giving Crowley their chance to take the game to a fourth set. Crowley scored the next point, but a turnover put the ball in the hands of the Lady Cats. Leading 24-22, Lindsey Bustos served up the volley and after several exchanges, the Panthers prevailed when a kill by Callie Rusher of Crowley hit the net, ending the game and giving the Panthers the victory.
On Tuesday, John Mall lost to Swink in four closely fought games. They won the first in a come- from-behind rally, 26-24, but lost the next three, 25-22, 25-11 and 25-24.
Rocky Ford will be in town tonight to face the Panthers. Rocky defeated the Panthers on their home court earlier this season for their lone conference victory. The Panthers are looking to avenge the loss and keep from finishing in the bottom of the league standings.
They will close out their regular season against Las Animas at home on Tuesday and at Hoehne next Thursday.