Blazers' reign vs. Panthers is ended

September 25, 1998|By BILL STERNER / Staff Correspondent

CLEAR SPRING - When Hancock's Erica Winn stepped to the line with the score knotted at 14-14 in the fifth and deciding game with county rival Clear Spring, she tried hard to shut out the crowd noise and concentrate on the basics of getting her serve in.

She had no idea that she stood on the doorstep as the "guard" prepared to change.

Winn deftly placed the next two serves in as her Panther teammates scratched out a rousing 4-15, 15-13, 15-13, 1-15, 16-14 upset of the Blazers in what Hancock coach Debbie Bowman termed the program's biggest win in her two year tenure at Washington County's smallest school.

"We certainly hung in there tonight," Bowman said of the Panthers (3-1), who forced twenty Clear Spring errors for points in the crucial middle games.

"You have to play the best teams if you are going to get better, and Clear Spring is definitely in that class."


The two teams are similar only in the fact that their differences are so apparent.

Clear Spring has been the pride of the region in the '90s, at one point winning two state championships and finishing as the runner-up another time with an aggressive, attacking style of play.

The Panthers, on the other hand, hovered around .500 while adopting a more defensive style of play: wait for a mistake and take advantage.

"We wanted to be patient." Bowman said. "We felt that their superior net play could be offset by a confident defensive style. This time, it worked."

The Blazers (0-4) opened the match with intensity in their pressure attack, jumping out to a 10-1 lead and quickly dispensing the Panthers.

But in the next two games, Hancock's defense dug in and rallied both times to take narrow wins.

"I give them all the credit they deserve," Blazer coach Karri Ernst said. "Every team that comes in here has trouble playing balls off that low gym ceiling, but they played everything like they do it every day."

In the deciding game, Hancock took control early and built a 14-9 lead. On the verge of winning the big one, some old ghosts revisited the Panthers.

"We were nervous," Winn said. "Although I feel we had confidence, it got a little scary at the end."

What an understatement. The Blazers' Mandy Englehart stepped to the line and when the Panthers finally got a sideout, the score was even.

But Winn's last two serves that made all the difference.

"I was proud of their heart and desire," Bowman said. "This is certainly something to build on."

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