ROCK HILL, S.C. — Senior Taylor Lillard (Victorville, Calif.) posted her fourth double-double of the year, and Gardner-Webb recorded a season-high 13 blocks as the Runnin' Bulldogs swept Winthrop to open Big South Conference play Tuesday evening.
"Very proud of the focus and competitive spirit of the team tonight," praised head coach Leo Sayles. "The girls stuck to our game plan and competed with confidence. This is a great road win for us, and a great way to start conference play."
With the win, Gardner-Webb (9-5, 1-0 Big South) records its first-ever victory at Winthrop (7-8, 0-1 Big South) while also notching the program's first sweep of the Eagles. The Runnin' Bulldogs tallied 32 kills, 51 digs and 13 blocks in the winning effort, while Winthrop posted 39 kills and 64 digs. Gardner-Webb also recorded eight service aces in a gritty defensive battle.
Lillard led all hitters with 10 kills to go along with 12 digs, while Kaelyn Dyson (Holly Springs, N.C.) posted six kills and a match-high eight blocks. Keira Moore (Spartanburg, S.C.) and Hannah Driscoll (Lake Mary, Fla.) each added six kills, while Moore also tallied six blocks. Emma Milstead (Knoxville, Tenn.) turned in 19 digs, as Lillard and Amanda Sahm (Marion, Iowa) each recorded a match-high three aces. Sahm also dished out 19 assists.
Brianna Gray led the way for Winthrop with eight kills, while Eagles libero Carlie Skelton posted a match-high 29 digs. Siani Yamaguchi and Hannah Lackey each dished out 17 assists. Emma Weakland and Sydney Gunter chipped in eight and seven kills, respectively.
Gardner-Webb took a 1-0 lead in the match with a scrappy 25-21 win in the first set behind four kills from Lillard. Trailing 11-8 midway through the frame, the Runnin' Bulldogs exploded for a 9-3 run to take a 17-14 lead on a Lillard smash. A 6-2 spurt would hand the advantage back to the Eagles, before Gardner-Webb rebounded with six of the next seven points to reclaim the momentum and cap the set following a Moore kill and a Lillard ace.
The Runnin' Bulldogs continued to press the attack in the second set with a 9-3 run to break a 6-6 tie, and open a 15-9 advantage following back-to-back smashes from Driscoll and Lillard. A late push by Winthrop would trim the margin to 20-17, before Gardner-Webb answered with a 5-2 spurt to close out the set and take a commanding 2-0 lead in the match.
Winthrop countered early in the third, evening the tally at 8-8 on a smash from Fey before a 10-5 spurt by the Runnin' Bulldogs gave Gardner-Webb a 18-13 advantage. The Runnin' Bulldogs would push the margin to 23-15 with an ace from Dyson, only to watch their lead dwindle to 24-20 after Winthrop fought off four straight match points - including back-to-back service aces from McFadden to force a Gardner-Webb timeout.
Driscoll answered for the Runnin' Bulldogs out of the break, smashing down a perfect set from Sahm to quell the rally and clinch Gardner-Webb's first sweep of Winthrop in program history.
Gardner-Webb returns to the court on Saturday when the Runnin' Bulldogs host Charleston Southern in Big South play at 2:00 pm in Paul Porter Arena.