In a season of tough challenges, it was fitting that the Clear Creek Wildcats began the playoffs with a matchup against a team more befitting of a late-round affair.
In Tuesday’s Region III-6A bi-district playoff match, Clear Creek survived a strong effort from a talented Richmond George Ranch Lady Longhorns squad, prevailing in a 25-21, 24-26, 25-23, 25-22 win at Pearland Dawson High School.
“We were pretty evenly matched with them,” Clear Creek head coach Scott Simonds said. “They’ve got some big guns, for sure, and they have a lot of kids back from last year.”
The first-round playoff matchup was a rematch of last year’s regional championship, which Clear Creek swept en route to its run to the state final in 2016. But, the 2017 team is far different from last year’s bunch, which graduated four now-Division I college players and had its top returner shelved for the season due to injury.
“I’m so proud of this group,” Simonds said. “To do what we just did is incredible. That’s a good, good team. That is not an easy matchup for a first-round game at all.”
Coming off a momentum-building four-set win over District 17-6A champion Langham Creek in a playoff warmup match Friday, the Wildcats (the third-place finisher in Districy 24-6A) began Tuesday’s bi-district match going back and forth with the Lady Longhorns (runners-up in District 23-6A) in the first set.
Holding a 10-9 lead, Clear Creek went on a key 5-0 scoring spurt fueled by a big block and a pair of kills by senior outside hitter Jenna Metzinger, and then kept George Ranch at arm’s length to win the first set.
In the second set, George Ranch held a 9-7 lead and then exploded for seven unanswered points to seemingly take control of the set. But, even though Clear Creek trailed by as much as 18-10, the Wildcats managed to rally all the way back to take a 24-23 lead. However, some costly errors by Clear Creek saw the final three points go to George Ranch as the Lady Longhorns staved off a complete collapse in the second frame.
“We could’ve just laid down, and that may have given us some momentum going into that third set,” Simonds said.
Trailing 8-7 in the third set, Clear Creek put together another 5-0 run — led by Metzinger and junior middle blocker Riley Brantley — to take control of the set. George Ranch made things interesting at the end of the set, getting the score as close as 24-23, but the Wildcats held on to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Clear Creek raced out to a 4-0 lead in the fourth set and never trailed in the frame, but again had to fend off a late push by George Ranch, which chipped away at its deficit to tie the score 22-22.
But, the Wildcats rattled off three straight points to close out the match courtesy of a big block by sophomore middle blocker Sam Simmons, a George Ranch net violation and a Metzinger kill.
The three-headed monster of Metzinger (26 kills), Brantley (17 kills) and senior outside hitter Emma Wagenknecht (20 kills) led Clear Creek’s attack. Senior setter Kelsey Childers paced the offense with 62 assists.
Childers (14 digs) and Metzinger (11 digs) also were key in a team effort on defense, which also included solid contributions from senior libero Sydney O’Dell (16 digs), senior defensive specialist Ashlynn Phillips (13 digs) and junior defensive specialist Miranda Phelps (11 digs).
The Wildcats now move on to the area round of the Region III-6A playoffs, where they will face Deer Park later this week at a time, date and location to be determined.