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DUBLIN –– Carroll County successfully navigated its way through the first 23 matches of the season without a loss. Plotting a course through Salem was another matter entirely.
The Spartans used huge rallies in the first two games to breeze through the Cavaliers 25-11, 25-17, 25-17 in the Region IV semifinals Thursday at Pulaski County High School. The win sends the Spartans (21-3) into the Group AA state tournament, regardless of the outcome of Saturday's region final. Salem played Hidden Valley in the championship match. The Titans were a five-game winner over Cave Spring in Thursday's first semifinal.
That three of the region's final four teams hailed from the Roanoke Valley was of no surprise to Cavalier coach Cindy Edwards.
“The pace is faster, the angles, everything's quicker,” said Edwards. “That's the bottom line. When you don't face it day in and day out, it's hard to make that adjustment. Every single kid on that team plays year-round. We've got four or five that can do that. That whole Salem team was together all winter.”
“We've been together so long that we've known each other, most of us, since preschool,” said Salem senior Meghan Bolton, who had six kills and three assists. “We love each other no matter what. We know how to play together.”
All that made for an opponent that was simply too tough to overcome as Salem rode a 10-point run in the first game and an 11-point string in the second. Carroll County trailed just 4-3 in the opening game when Kelsey Bradshaw's kill resulted a side out for the Spartans and a lengthy stay at the serving line for Rachel Turk. Bradshaw and Kayla Paxton combined for four kills which, coupled with five hitting and passing errors, left the Cavaliers trailing 14-4. Salem ended the first game with five unanswered points.
Carroll County took an early 4-3 lead in the second game on a Trish Reed ace and a pair of winners by Kim Caudill, one of two non-sophomore starters for the Cavaliers. Two kills by Lauren Roper helped the Cavaliers hang within a point of the Spartans before another lengthy run all but ended the game. Kills by Bradshaw and Emily Richardson sparked a run of 11 unanswered points for Salem, which led 20-8 on Bolton's smash.
A 5-0 run broke a 5-5 tie in the third as the Spartans coasted to the win.
Maleah Neely, one of five sophomore starters for the Cavaliers, led Carroll with 13 serving points and six assists. Caudill finished with 10 kills, five blocks and eight digs, while Sarah Singleton added a team-high 11 digs.
“For this team to be so young, I never dreamed that we would be 23-0 coming into today,” Edwards said. “They work hard. Salem was quicker than us, but I thought that we battled. We kept after it and we played hard, no matter what the score was. We work harder because we have to work harder.”
Some information provided by Landmark News Service.