CHARLESTON, S.C. — Senior Taylor Lillard (Victorville, Calif.) posted a double-double and Emma Milstead (Knoxville, Tenn.) recorded 29 digs, as Gardner-Webb fell to The Citadel in a five-set heartbreaker on Saturday afternoon in the final match of the Bulldog Battle.
"I give The Citadel a lot of credit - they were tenacious, and we were ineffective slowing down their offense,"said head coach Leo Sayles. "We knew before the match they would be tough to beat at home. Our problem was simple: we did not pass the ball well enough to make the most of our opportunities. We must do a better job in set 1 to put pressure on the home team. I do give our girls credit, our defense stepped up again and carried us to the fifth set. We must be much more efficient offensively to give ourselves opportunities to win - especially in the final set if we want to come out on top."
The Citadel (2-1) won the match by scores of 25-17, 26-28, 25-14, 18-25 and 15-10, holding Gardner-Webb (1-2) to 49 kills and a .156 hitting percentage while attacking at a .262 clip and dropping in 77 smashes. The Bulldogs also posted 113 digs and 74 assists, compared to 80 digs and 41 assists for the Runnin' Bulldogs as Gardner-Webb tallied 11 blocks.
Lillard led the way for Gardner-Webb with 14 kills and 12 digs to account for her second double-double of the season, while Milstead turned in 29 digs to earn a spot on the Bulldog Battle All-Tournament Team. Nicole Celarek (Bensenville, Ill.) added 12 kills and three blocks, as Jene Lee (San Dimas, Calif.) chipped in nine kills and four blocks to secure a spot on the Bulldog Battle All-Tournament Team.
Amanda Sahm (Marion, Iowa) posted a double-double with 30 assists and 15 digs, while Charissa Coleman (Matthews, N.C.) and Hannah Driscoll (Lake Mary, Fla.) tallied season-highs of 11 digs and six blocks, respectively.
Moriah Smith led all players with 35 kills to go along with 20 digs and a .342 hitting percentage, while Megan Sowell posted 18 kills and two aces. Logan Smith and Samantha Espy recorded match-highs of 67 assists and 32 digs, respectively, as Smith added 16 digs for a double-double. Carla Bruce accounted for a double-double of her own with 14 kills and 16 digs.
The Citadel opened the first set with an 11-5 run before Gardner-Webb responded, closing the gap to 11-10 on a kill by Kaelyn Dyson (Holly Springs, N.C.). The Bulldogs countered with another 11-5 spurt, pushing the margin to 22-15 before capping the set with a tandem block by Smith and Sarah Dobrich to take a 1-0 lead.
Gardner-Webb fought back in the second, claiming an early 5-4 edge with a Celarek smash before stretching the gap to 14-10 following an ace from Lee. The Citadel then answered with a 9-5 spurt to even the tally at 19-19 with a Sowell smash. The Teams would trade points for the next several minutes, with Gardner-Webb snatching a 23-21 lead and The Citadel countering with a Bruce kill to stave off set point. The Runnin' Bulldogs then capped the set on a Lillard smash to level the match at 1-1 with a 28-26 second-set win.
The Citadel responded with a superb performance in the third set, stringing together an 11-5 run midway through the frame to open a 21-10 advantage on back-to-back kills from Sowell and Dobrich. The Bulldogs would close out the set from there, claiming a 2-1 lead in the match with a 25-14 set win.
Gardner-Webb answered right back in the fourth, snatching an early 9-6 lead following back-to-back blocks from Dyson and Driscoll. After The Citadel countered with a 3-2 spurt to trim the margin to 12-9, the Runnin' Bulldogs responded with an 11-7 run to push their margin to 23-16 on a Lillard smash. Gardner-Webb then finished off the frame with a Lee kill and a Citadel miscue to force a deciding fifth set.
The Runnin' Bulldogs carried the momentum into the fifth, opening the frame with a 6-3 run before The Citadel responded with a 7-4 spurt to claim a narrow 10-9 advantage. Celarek pulled Gardner-Webb even at 10-10 with a well-placed smash before the Bulldogs regained control, closing out the set and the match with five straight points to hold on for the five-set victory.
Gardner-Webb returns to the court on Tuesday when the Runnin' Bulldogs travel to Spartanburg, S.C. to take on USC Upstate in non-conference play at 6 pm.