Tim Barrington, Tennessee-Martin’s public address announcer, was rather busy at the outset of the fifth set, holding down his post behind the microphone.
“Point Skyhawks,” he bellowed.
Then his voice grew silent.
The Panthers presented him with an opportunity to clock out early, as they went on four 2-0 runs in the fifth set to ward off Tennessee-Martin 3-2 on Friday, before falling 3-1 to Southeast Missouri on Saturday.
Sidelined with an ankle injury for 10 games, senior Taylor Smith did not take part in the Panthers’ last meet up with Tennessee-Martin, a 3-1 loss back in late September, but has managed to play in four of Eastern’s five conference wins.
“Taylor Smith has done a fantastic job leading our team throughout the season on and off the court,” Eastern head coach Julie Allen said. “Of course, as she is on the court she has provided us with leadership, points through attacking and serving as well as great defense and setting. Taylor has always demonstrated all-around skill success.”
Smith repelled the Tennessee-Martin defenders with 13 kills and four block assists which, in no doubt, would be good enough for 17 points on the night.
Eastern has gone undefeated when Smith tallies 17 or more points in a game, as she accomplished this feat three weeks ago against Morehead State as well.
“Having Taylor on the court has allowed our team to become more versatile and confident in ourselves,” said Allen.
Taking on the top-ranked service ace team in the Ohio Valley Conference, Eastern held the Skyhawks’ attack percentage of .000, just minutes after hitting at a clip of .300.
Both Smith and junior Maggie Runge presided over a block that ushered in a 10-6 lead on the Skyhawks, far and above the largest disparity between the two teams up to that point in the set.
As the Skyhawks narrowed Eastern’s surplus to three, Smith regrouped with her sidekick once again, sliding in a block near the end of the fifth set, on Tennessee-Martin freshman Addison Conley.
The fifth was a sharp rebuttal of the Panthers’ dearth of scoring chances in the fourth.
Beginning with a 4-0 run to open the fourth, Tennessee-Martin froze Eastern’s offense throughout the set, as the Panthers, who lost by eight, could not thaw themselves out.
Indeed, the Panthers could not follow suit the very next day.
After the Panthers softened a 6-2 Redhawks’ lead to just two, SEMO cordoned off any, and all, paths to victory, when they forced Eastern into three errors.
On the heels of a 25-21 win in the fourth, the Panthers hobbled into the final set, trailing the entire way.
SEMO freshman Kendall Washington, employing an assist from fellow freshman Claire Ochs, assured a Redhawks’ win when she came up with a kill to take the fifth set 15-11.
Following up her performance the previous night, Smith totaled her fourth triple double in as many games.
Ochs, who led the Redhawks with 57 assists, set up three different teammates on kills in the fifth set alone.
With the loss to Southeast Missouri, the Panthers finished the season without successive wins on the road.
“I look forward to getting back in the gym tomorrow and working on serve & pass,” Allen said. “I want to make sure our passers feel extremely confident going into our last home weekend.”
Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]