By KYLE DAWSON
A perfect storm of USC Aiken’s offensive inefficiency and Flagler’s precise pounding ended with host USCA watching from the sidelines as Flagler celebrated its Peach Belt Conference championship.
The Saints, the PBC’s No. 2 seed, swept the top-seeded Pacers 25-14, 25-20, 26-24 on Saturday.
“We just didn’t click offensively today. We had a little bit of passing trouble and we struggled offensively,” said USCA head coach Glenn Cox. “Some of our key players just had a really bad day offensively; that’s basically it.
“Hats off to Flagler – they played exceptionally well. They passed really well and their hitters on the outside really had a spectacular day offensively against us, and we weren’t able to stop it.”
Tournament MVP Taja Valmyr led Flagler (23-7) with 15 kills while hitting .375. Megan Hooks added 10, and Sara Davis and Jenea Reddick had seven apiece.
The Saints opened the first set on a 4-0 run and were able to maintain that edge until USCA (27-5) pulled within 15-13 after a couple of Flagler errors. The visitors didn’t make any more mistakes after that, blitzing the Pacers with a 10-1 run to authoritatively claim the opening frame.
Flagler carried that momentum into the second set, during which the Saints hit .432 offensively. The Pacers also turned in their best set, but their .229 hit percentage wasn’t enough – and their five attack errors were too many.
“Our ball control on defense is going to keep us in a lot of matches, but you’ve got to produce offensively and defensively,” Cox said. “That means we’ve got to produce that same number or better.”
A Taylor Stratton kill, one of her seven in the match, squared the set at 17 and gave the Pacers hopes of evening the match. Flagler quickly put those thoughts to bed with another late run, this time an 8-3 run that ended with a Valmyr kill, to take a commanding 2-0 lead.
The Saints opened the third set on a 5-0 run, eventually pushing their lead to 17-10 and all but grabbing the trophy from PBC commissioner David Brunk.
The Pacers showed fight, going on a big run to tie the set at 24, but Flagler closed out the match with a Valmyr kill to claim the title.
Aly Johnson led USCA with nine kills and hit .238, the high mark for Pacers with multiple attacks. Back-to-back PBC Player of the Year Ashley Diedrich and Julia Forster each had five, and Ashley Lind had four while providing a spark in the third set. Emily Teelon had 26 assists, and Katie Toman led a balanced defensive effort with 14 digs.
The Pacers, the PBC regular-season champions, now will focus their attention toward the NCAA Tournament. USCA has been ranked No. 1 in the Southeast Region each week and still might have the best resume in the region. Cox and the Pacers will find out if their season will continue at the Convocation Center – or if they’ll have to hit the road – when the tournament bids are announced Monday at 7:30 p.m.
“You’ve got to match them punch for punch, and we were just getting slugged out today. We got beat up today,” said Cox. “We’ll bounce back. Hopefully we can still host the national tournament here; I think we can. I think we’re still in pretty good shape. Sometimes a loss like this can do you some good, let you know what you need to work on, not get too complacent. We’ll work hard next week ... and come back refreshed for the national tournament and go to work.”
Kyle Dawson covers sports for the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @ItsKyleDawson.