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Pioneers battle for five-set win at Catawba

Pioneers battle for five-set win at Catawba

SALISBURY, N.C. --- In a hard-fought battle, the Tusculum University volleyball team rallied from a set down to win in a five-set marathon at Catawba College Friday night at Goodman Gym.

With the victory, the Pioneers (3-13, 1-9 South Atlantic Conference) snap a 13-match losing streak, the longest in 15 years as TU prevailed 19-25, 25-21, 25-23, 13-25, 16-14.  The Catawba Indians drop to 6-16 overall and 2-9 in league play.

Tusculum jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the fifth set and led 14-9 following a blocks from Gabby Gray and Tatum Thornton.  But the Indians fought off five match points to tie the set at 14-14.  Tusculum responded as Taylor Blythe and Thornton combined on a block to give TU its sixth-match point, but the Pioneers came through this time as senior Cassie Born converted the kill to send the visitors to a victory.

Born and Gray finished the match with 16 kills apiece, while Blythe added a dozen kills and five blocks.  Thornton added six kills and six blocks while Carli Pigza finished with six kills and six blocks for Tusculum.  Senior setter Alyssa Rojas came off the bench in the first frame and ended the night with 44 assists and 17 digs.  Senior Melissa Mazur tallied 24 digs on the night including an amazing dozen in the fifth frame alone as she willed her team defensively in the final stanza.

For Catawba, Kylie Morgan posted a double-double with 19 kills and 20 digs, while Allie Grubb accounted for 12 kills and six blocks.  Catawba setter Morgan Hester finished with 50 assists, 23 digs and three service aces, while Allison Benton and Jade Brooks tallied 16 and 12 digs, respectively.

Catawba edged Tusculum 57-56 in kills, 83-73 in digs, 56-55 in assists and tallied a higher attack percentage (.163 to .151).  The Tribe also edged Tusculum 8-6 in service aces as the Pioneers also committed 11 service errors.

But Tusculum shined on the block as the Pioneers had 12 team blocks to Catawba's eight.

The Indians scored the first four points of the match and led wire-to-wire in a 25-19 win in the opening set. Catawba led by as many as 17-7 before the Pioneers made it interesting trimming the deficit to four on several occasions.

Trailing 9-8 in the second set, Tusculum rallied with a 7-1 run to go up 15-10 as Blythe converted on three kills during the spurt.  Catawba cut the TU lead to two, twice including 17-15 thanks to a Brooks' kill.  But Tusculum won the set 25-21 as the Indians could get no closer than three points down the stretch as the Pioneers tied the match at 1-1.

Catawba looked to have recaptured the momentum in the third frame as the Indians led 10-4 after a Grubb ace.  Tusculum retaliated with five consecutive points as Catawba called a timeout, holding onto a 10-9 lead.  The Pioneers would tie the match at 11-11 on an ace from Born as the lead would exchange hands five times for the remainder of the set.  The Indians led 23-22 but a Catawba hitting error coupled with kills from Thornton and Gray and Tusculum would win the set 25-23 and take a 2-1 lead in the match.

It was all Catawba in the fourth set as the hosts closed out the stanza with a 12-4 run to win 25-13 and the send the match to a deciding set.  The Indians hit .300 in the fourth while TU was limited to a .064 attack percentage.

Catawba scored the first two points of the deciding frame, before the Pioneers scored the next six to take a 6-2 lead.  TU would push their advantage out to 9-4 sparked by two kills from Blythe before Catawba made their late set run and the Pioneers would prevail.

The last time Tusculum had a losing skid of 10 or more matches was an 18-match skid including 17 straight losses to end the 2003 campaign.

The Pioneers will be at Queens University of Charlotte on Saturday for a 2 p.m. SAC match.

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