Despite struggles, Mississinewa dispatches Eastbrook for second conference triumph

Thursday’s CIC matchup between the Eastbrook Panthers and Mississinewa Indians can best be described as sloppy.

Both teams struggled with hitting errors, mental gaffes, and defensive breakdowns, and neither really found much of a rhythm.

However, the Indians, after dropping the first set, found a way to win, defeating the Panthers in four sets to improve to 2-0 in the CIC (23-25, 25-19, 25-13, 25-22).

Mississinewa, a group that has prided themselves on their defense, their communication, and their confidence all season long, lacked in all three areas on Thursday evening. There were several uncharacteristic breakdowns, and the team never seemed to click as they had in previous matches.

“We were so tight. Everything was tight,” Mississinewa Head Coach Jody Havens said. “Defensively, we were not very disciplined. It was very apparent. We did a lot of sloppy things, which completely prevented us from being able to run an offense and take momentum away from us time and time again.”

Eastbrook, on the other hand, played well in the first two sets, which included a comeback win in the opening game. However, errors and miscues proved to be their downfall in the final two as the match eventually slipped away.

“We didn’t make the changes that we needed to, and we made way too many errors,” Eastbrook Head Coach Bailie Havens said. “We missed serves at crucial moments. We missed hits at crucial moments. And obviously, that affected us in the long run.”

Additionally, Mississinewa’s front row, particularly Carly Bolser, were a matchup nightmare for the Panthers’ much smaller lineup. They attacked the middle of Eastbrook’s defense time and time again, and the Panthers struggled mightily to keep them contained.  Bolser finished with 10 kills, while Mia Catey, who is still working herself back from an early season injury, collected eight.

“The offense struggled in those games, but even the defense, I think Mississinewa just capitalized on our weaknesses,” Bailie Havens said. “They kept hitting our one zone, and instead of making that adjustment, we were just too late in getting to the balls, and you can’t do anything after that.”

The Indians came out firing in the first set, building an 11-4 lead, but the Panthers came roaring back, taking advantage of Mississinewa’s lack of cohesion. Behind the stout play of Lexi Binkerd and Ava Walters, the Panthers outscored the Indians 21-12, as the duo combined for seven kills.

The two teams battled in the early part of the second set, playing to a 5-5 tie, but the Indians took control with a 9-2 run, which included three aces from Sophie Corey.

Eastbrook, much like they did in the first set, made another push, cutting the Indians’ lead to as little as three, but this time, Mississinewa held on to tie the match at one set apiece.

After grabbing an early 2-1 advantage in the third set, the Indians used a 9-0 run to take a 10-3 lead – one they would not relinquish. The Indians would go on to win the set by 11 points, thanks to a plethora of Eastbrook errors.

The final set was much more competitive, but in the end, the Indians made the plays they needed to down the stretch to secure the victory, albeit a hollow one.

“Any time you are playing a rival school, I feel like that lift you up a little bit,” Jody Havens said. “With each set…we got a little looser, but [never] all six of us on the floor. It’s disappointing. You take a win you and run with it, but this was not a night where we felt like we took a step forward, it was actually the opposite.

We just have to clean things up. We have to get our decisiveness back in our defense and in our offense. We have to take all of our skills to a higher level. We have to get crisp, and that is going to be our focus tomorrow. Win or lose, we have to get better.

Jazzy Nicholson led the Mississinewa offense with 25 assists, while Corey led the defensive effort with eight digs.

For Eastbrook, Binkerd put together a strong performance, leading all players with 16 kills. She was locked in from the start and gave the Panthers a chance every time she was on the floor regardless of where she lined up.

“She’s our big hitter. She’s our No. 1 go-to,” Bailie Havens said. “She’s just someone you can’t take off the court, and she makes an impact no matter where she is.”

Walters finished the contest with 21 assists, while Kayleigh Gross led the Panthers with 12 digs.

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