CORPUS CHRISTI – The Sam Houston State Bearkats did what no Southland Conference team had done in almost a month, but could not withstand a red-hot Texas A&M-Corpus Christi squad as the Islanders eliminated the Kats 3-1 (25-19, 25-20, 23-25, 25-17) in the first round of the Southland Conference Tournament on Friday night at the Dugan Wellness Center.
The Islanders (15-13) entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed after closing out the year with five straight wins, all sweeps, since a five-set loss to the Bearkats (14-16) on Oct. 21 and ran that streak to 17 sets in a row before the Kats put an end to it in the third set on Friday.
But despite a double-doubles Brooke White, the two-time defending champion Islanders hit .327 for the night and had three players in double-figure kills on their home court to move on to face No. 2 Central Arkansas in the tournament semifinals on Saturday.
The Kats hit .500 in their second-set win and got 11 kills and 14 digs from White, who eclipsed the 1,000-dig mark in the match to become just the 14th Bearkat in history with 1,000 digs and 1,000 kills for a career. Ward added a career-best nine kills to go with 36 assists, while Taylor Cunningham added a team-best 14 kills on 34 swings with four blocks in the match.
Jordyn Vaughn finished with eight kills and nine digs in her final match as a Bearkat, and Addison Miller had 17 digs. Freshman Ashley Lewis provided a big spark off the bench with eight kills on 22 swings with just two errors.
Early in the set, it was a back-and-forth battle between with the teams tying eight teams in the first 22 points. With the teams tied at 11-11, the Islanders put together three straight points to go up 14-11 and begin breaking away from the Bearkats. Up 20-18, Corpus Christi scored four consecutive points to get ahead 24-18. Ward record her fourth kill of the set before Chloe Simon put the set away with her fourth kill. The Islanders hit .341 for the set with six players tallying a kill while Vaughn and Cunningham each got four kills.
Madison Green’s left-handed swing ended the set for a 25-20. She joined Simon and Madison Fitzsimmons for four kills in the set. Unlike the set before, Corpus Christi never lost the lead after starting the second set on a 10-5 run. Although the Islanders recorded just a .184 hitting clip for the set, the Corpus Christi defense held Sam Houston to .031. Ashley Lewis was the leader in kills for the Bearkats with four.
After leading the entire set, the Bearkats found themselves down by a point to the Islanders at 19-18. From there on it became a point exchange between the two teams with Sam Houston tying it at 19-all, but never leading by more than two points before winning it 25-23. At 23-23, Ward again took the attack herself to record her third kill of the set and move to seven on the night followed by Vaughn claiming her third of the set to end it. Both teams had their best hitting of the match so far with Sam Houston hitting .500 to the Islanders’ .379. The Islanders’ Madeline Doud hit .833, downing five kills on six attacks.
After Corpus Christi let Sam Houston within one at 11-10, the Islanders scored five straight to take a 16-10 lead and carry momentum toward a 25-17 in the fourth set to win the match. Doud led all hitters with six kills on seven attacks for a .857 hitting percentage as her Islanders hit a team best for the night at .412. Nicholson recorded 11 assists for the set and added three kills and a dig while the Islander compiled 20 digs and two blocks.