Madison Mitchell

Madison Mitchell, seen here against Starmount's Olivia Ray in the third set, registered eight kills for East Wilkes on Tuesday night.

East Wilkes played some of its best volleyball Tuesday evening when its back was against the proverbial wall.

The Cardinals battled back from a pair of one-set deficits against Starmount and scored an impressive win in the fourth set to force a winner-take-all fifth set.

But whatever momentum East Wilkes acquired in a 25-16 fourth set victory, the Rams quickly squashed it in a 15-6 fifth set to capture a 3-2 win in Ronda.

Trailing 2-1 after the Rams’ 25-21 win, the Cardinals quickly jumped out to a 9-2 lead, before Starmount Head Coach Haley Hartman called a timeout.

But Starmount, which moved to 4-7 in the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference (5-12 overall), never got closer than four at 20-16 on a kill from Emma Freed. Thanks to a pair of Krysta Prevette aces and an Aubrey Wallis kill, the Cardinals ran off the last five points of the set.

In the first to 15 fifth set, the Rams stormed out to a 6-0 lead on an Olivia Ray ace. A kill from Wallis got East (4-15, 2-8) within three (7-4) but five attacking errors in the final seven points allowed Starmount to earn the win.

Despite being visibly disappointed with the loss, East Wilkes Head Coach Cassandra Gage was also encouraged by the Cardinals’ play after the match.

“Tonight, we played more together than we have in several games, so I’m proud of them and what they were able to do in the first four sets and how well they responded to each other and pushed through,” said Gage. “We dug ourselves a hole at the beginning and we just couldn’t get out of it quick enough; the last set did not represent how we played four sets.”

The Cardinals fell behind early in the first set as Starmount built a 12-5 lead behind back-to-back aces from Caitlyn Bolling. East would battle back to score the next six points, highlighted by a pair of Monica Shaver kills.

Starmount was able to stretch its lead to as many as eight at 23-15 before going on to the 25-19 win for a 1-0 lead.

East built a comfortable advantage in the second set, leading by as many as eight (16-8) but the Rams got as close as 18-16 on a Jadyn Haynes kill.

But an emphatic kill from Wallis extended the lead to five at 22-17 and East tied the match with a 25-20 win.

Wallis finished 10 kills, but certainly had to work for every one of them, seeing constant double teams on each kill attempt.

“They decided in the second set that they wanted it, so they came out swinging more aggressive and offensively, we were there,” said Gage about the second set. “I think Aubrey did a good job of still overcoming and finding some holes and some spots and making it work. I felt like I had some other girls who stepped up to try and overcome that Aubrey wasn’t able to swing as much. My outsides brought in some heat for us.”

One player who stepped up was Madison Mitchell. The senior outside hitter registered eight kills and had a big one in the fourth set that gave the Cardinals a 10-4 advantage.

“Madison played really well tonight. She came out and she had a strong, well-placed hit and that really worked out for her and for us and helped us a lot,” said Gage.

Notes: The Cardinals returned to action on Thursday when it traveled to Alleghany. In JV action, East Wilkes picked up their 10th win of the fall with a 2-0 win over the Rams. The Cardinals (10-8, 5-5) won by identical scores of 25-20.

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