EARLY— The Early Lady Horns volleyball team punched its ticket to the playoffs after sweeping the rival Bangs Lady Dragons, 25-13, 25-16 and 25-21, Tuesday night.

With their 20th victory of the season, the Lady Horns (20-15, 4-4) snapped a three-game losing streak and in the process picked up what Early coach Natalie Whitewood considers a historic victory for the program.

“We knew if we won, if we put them away, we’re in the playoffs for sure,” Whitewood. “That secures playoffs for us. It’s the first time it’s been earned. We made the playoffs once before, but they were 0-for. There were only four teams in the district so it was automatic.”

An errant serve decided game three in the Lady Horns’ favor Tuesday night, but before that Bangs did not go down without a fight. In game one and game two, the Lady Dragons had been dominated with the Lady Horns taking advantage of their size and the Lady Dragons’ mistakes. An opening set kill by Bangs middle hitter Kyra Smith seemed to set the stage for a promising matchup, but kills by Early middle blocker Kacee Gober and outside hitter Emma Loven, a block by middle blocker Ellie Ryan, an ace by outside hitter Trinity Tomlinson, who had a team-leading 18 digs, and a slew of Bangs mistakes led to the Lady Horns jumping out to an insurmountable 16-8 lead.

“They’ve bought into what we’ve done. They know if we come out and practice hard everyday, even JV and freshmen, that good things are going to happen,” Whitewood said. “I keep telling them that over and over again, ‘Good things will happen.’ I told them that last year, and they didn’t believe it, but this year it’s working.”

Game two seemed a near repeat of game one with Smith once again picking up the first offensive points only for Early to once again capitalize on errant Bangs’ shots. This time around, it was Gober, Ryan and outside hitter Kenzie Poindexter teaming up in the middle to provide a substantial cushion for the Lady Horns, who eventually took the game after a two-hit set up match point and a bad serve sealed it, 25-21.

“We tell each other ‘fight to the last point,’ the big thing is to not let your head get down,” Bangs first-year head coach Callie Molloy said. “A lot of the time in the first two sets, it wasn’t clicking for us. In the last set, we started to get our passes on, which led to a set, then our hits were on. You saw it click in the last set, but it was a little too late.”

Smith once again got the Lady Dragons started early, but they quickly fell behind following a pair of out-of-bounds shots, a block by Poindexter and a push shot by Gober. Bangs rallied back, eventually pulling within two points on a pair of kills by Smith, outside hitter Kenzie Baker and Jacee Miller, but a two-hit violation set up match-point and an errant serve brought the game to an anticlimactic end.

“It’s crazy because we came from nothing,” Loven said. “My seventh-grade year was our school’s first year to have volleyball. We went from not being able to pass the ball over the net to pass-set-hitting every single time. We worked really hard as a team and bonded this year. Our teamwork pushed us into the playoffs. Our Bangs rivalry came out tonight. They weren’t going to give it to us. We were a bit tired and our adrenaline weakened, but we ended up pushing through.”

For the Lady Horns, Gober finished with eight kills trailed by six from Hope Boswell, five from Tomlinson, four from Ryan, two from Loven and one from Vance Cady Gordon.

Taylor Summers distributed 13 assists, Gordon added six and Tomlinson was credited with one.

Haley Spieckerman served three aces while Tomlinson, Loven and Summers each contributed one.

Defensively, Ryan notched eight blocks while Gober chipped in four.

Along with Tomlinson’s 18 digs, Alexa Portillo tallied 11 followed by with Speickerman and Loven with 10 apiece, Gordon with eight, Ryan with five, Gober and Poindexter with three each, and Boswell and Portillo both with a pair.

Early will have an opportunity to improve its position in the playoff bracket with wins against Comanche Saturday and a Senior Night showdown against Dublin Tuesday, which would set up a three-way tie for second place.

Although beaten Tuesday, Bangs’ playoff hopes remain alive, but in order to secure a spot the Lady Dragons must pick up crucial wins against undefeated Eastland Saturday and Comanche Tuesday for Senior Night.