EARLY — The Early Lady Horns were competitive in all three sets, but couldn’t get over the hump in a 25-20, 25-21, 25-20 non-district home loss to the Hamilton Lady Bulldogs Tuesday night.

The Lady Horns opened a 16-11 lead in the first set but couldn’t hold on, witnessed Hamilton pull away midway through the second set, and had their rally from a seven-point deficit in the finale stall prior to the Lady Bulldogs putting the finishing touches on the victory.

Opportunities were presented Tuesday night, but the Lady Horns proved to be their own nemesis.

“I just don’t think we have that killer instinct yet,” said Early first-year head coach Natalie Whitewood. “We know what to do, but we’re not focused on what we’re doing. We’re just not focused on the court, our minds are somewhere else.

“When we get a couple of points, instead of taking it to them we sit back and relax like we’re on cruise control. We have to get out of the mode.”

Offensively, Lainey Speck led the Early attack with three kills trailed by Ellie Ryan, Kacee Gober and Trinity Tomlinson with two apiece and Brilee Tabor, Emma Loven, Hope Boswell and Jenna Whitehead with one each.

Tyson dished out four assists, Boswell added two, and Tomlinson and Vance-Cady Gordon finished with one apiece.

Gober and Tyson both served a pair of aces while Loven also contributed one.

On the defensive end, Tomlinson recorded a team-best 17 digs followed by Loven with 15, Gober with six, Speck and Tyson with three apiece, Tabor with two and Ryan, Bowell, Whitehead and Hallie Brinson with one each.

At the net, Gober posted a team-high three blocks while Ryan, Boswell and Whitehead chipped in one apiece.

Among the brightest spots for the Lady Horns, Whitewood said, “We’re not letting balls hit the floor. We’re moving much better and we know where to go, we just have to be able to execute the final point.”

In the first set, Early tallied nine of the first 12 points behind the serving of Gober and a couple of Tomlinson kills to take control. But the Lady Horns’ momentum was short lived as Hamilton, down 16-11, reeled off seven straight points to open an 18-16 edge and never trailed again.

The second set saw the Lady Horns grab their final lead, 12-11, on a kill by Speck. Hamilton answered with four points in a row and scored 11 of the next 15 to open a 22-16 cushion. Early crept within 22-20 after an ace by Tyson, but the Lady Bulldogs secured the final three points.

The finale saw Early fall in a quick 4-0 hole, but tally eight of the next 10 points to grab an 8-6 lead — with a kill from Ryan pushing the Lady Horns in front. Hamilton, however, answered with another 4-0 run to regain a 12-8 edge. Trailing 16-13 after a block for point by Gober, Early witnessed Hamilton notch four more points to build a comfortable 20-13 cushion.

Trailing 24-17, Early reeled off four straight points of its own with kills from Ryan and Loven contributing to the rally as the Lady Horns closed the gap to 24-21 before Hamilton recorded the final point.

The Lady Horns are off until Tuesday when they host Grape Creek at 6 p.m. Early still has five matches on the schedule before the District 6-3A opener at Breckenridge on Sept. 23.

“We need to improve, but if we would swing like we know how to swing, I think we’re unstoppable,” Whitewood said. “When we swing, good things happen. When we sit back and just get the ball over, then we play defense and our defense is not where it needs to be.”