GRANBURY — Tears were flowing freely on the Brownwood Lady Lions’ bench as team members tried to come to grips with what they had just experienced.
Poised to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004, Brownwood witnessed a two sets to one lead evaporate as the Midlothian Lady Panthers rallied for a 24-26, 26-24, 15-25, 25-14, 15-9 victory in Saturday’s Region II-4A bi-district volleyball playoff match.
The Lady Lions (20-13), who qualified for the postseason for the fourth straight year, were dealt their third consecutive first-round defeat. Midlothian (14-10) — which will move on to face District 14-4A champion Dallas South Oak Cliff for the area crown — has twice been behind Brownwood’s early exits, the first time coming in 2005.
Though Saturday’s season-ending loss was a tough one to stomach, another postseason appearance appears to be imminent with 10 of the 12 Lady Lions suited up Saturday returning next year.
Brownwood will be losing seniors Ta’Kenda Cotton — who recorded eight kills and 15 digs against Midlothian — and LaCresha Williams — who finished with a pair of assists and a handful of digs.
Among the returnees for Brownwood will be Flynn Harrell, who tallied 20 kills, nine digs and three blocks; Moochie Galloway, who added five kills and three digs; Julie Kennedy, who finished with eight kills, eight digs and three blocks; Alex Williams, who posted 29 assists, six digs and a kill; Shalisa Hall, who totaled 14 digs; and RaeLee Taylor, who had a pair of assists.
The Lady Lions and Lady Panthers split the first two sets with each team claiming a 26-24 victory.
In the third set, Brownwood broke a 7-all tie with seven of the next nine points. Cotton accounted for three points on spikes during the run, while Kennedy added a pair of spikes that Midlothian couldn’t get back over the net.
Leading 14-9, Brownwood continued to pile on the points as the lead increased to 20-11. Cotton unleashed a pair of serves Midlothian had no answer for, Kennedy recorded two of her kills and Harrell added one.
Taylor’s ace gave Brownwood its first double-digit lead of the match, 23-13, and a kill from Galloway closed out the third set.
But just when it appeared the momentum was completely on Brownwood’s side, Midlothian displayed its resiliency.
The Lady Panthers scored the first three points of the fourth set, then strung together 10 straight points after Brownwood closed to within 6-4. With the Lady Panthers in front 16-4, the momentum had clearly shifted once more and Brownwood was never able to recover.
The Lady Lions were able to close the gap to 22-14 on a kill by Harrell, but Midlothian rattled off the final three points.
In the deciding fifth set, Brownwood jumped out to a 3-0 lead on kills by Harrell and Kennedy, along with a block from Harrell.
Midlothian quickly answered with five points of its own and Brownwood never led again. Kills by Harrell and Galloway trimmed the Lady Panther lead to one point on two separate occasions, but a string of five straight points opened an 11-5 Lady Panthers’ lead and proved to be more than Brownwood could overcome.
In the opening set, Brownwood never led until collecting its 25th point. Midlothian owned a 19-13 advantage, but the Lady Lions charged back and eventually drew even at 23-all following an unforced Lady Panther error.
Midlothian regained the lead, 24-23, but an errant spike allowed Brownwood to extend the set. Harrell then delivered a kill that gave the Lady Lions a 25-24 advantage, and another off target Midlothian spike ended the set.
Brownwood almost pulled off another improbable comeback in the second set. Trailing 24-20, the Lady Lions pulled even at 24-all by reeling off four straight points — two of which came on kills by Cotton and Kennedy.
But Midlothian regained its composure and was able to hang on and tie the match at a set apiece.