Blinn volleyball coach Erin Mellinger knew the Buccaneers were eventually going to find a rhythm.
But down 2-0 in their Region XIV Conference Tournament opener to Panola, that rhythm had to come much sooner than later.
The Buccaneers depth helped achieve exactly that as the Bucs rallied to victory over the Fillies, 22-25, 22-25, 25-23, 25-23, 15-8.
"Our serve receive was great, and our defense played well, we just had too many hitting errors at the beginning," Mellinger said.
Blinn had 27 hitting errors in the first three sets before the offense settled in. And it couldn't have come a second too soon. Panola took a 22-21 lead in the third set to put Blinn on the brink of being swept. But after a Buccaneer timeout, Bruna Evangelista, who struggled much of the match, blasted two kills to give Blinn back the lead.
Ahead 24-23, Evangelista provided the set-ending kill to start Blinn's rally.
From there, the Bucs kept the momentum flowing, and by the fifth set, the offense was at its strongest point of the match.
Blinn built a 5-1 lead to put Panola behind early. The Bucs rallied behind Evangelista, who, despite her struggles still had a game-high 18 kills, and got production from its outside hitters in Trinity Alualu, Katey Kyle, Rachel Sharp and middle blocker Kariana Castanon-Hill.
"Our outside hitters really bailed us out today," Mellinger said. "They played great and really stepped up when we needed them."
Alualu had 12 kills and 14 digs, and Sharp contributed another nine kills. Kyle came off the bench and posted six kills and a .312 hitting percentage. The defense held its own as five players – Evely Macedo, Alualu, Crystal Young, Rebecca Reeve and Alyssa LaMont – recorded double-digit digs.
With Panola attempting a late rally of its own in the fifth set, Alualu took a set from Young and ended the match with a kill that sent the Bucs into the winner's bracket and into a match against Laredo at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Blinn is no stranger to a 2-0 deficit this season. Against then second-ranked Western Nebraska on Oct. 4, the Cougars were on the verge of sweeping the Bucs when Blinn rallied the next three sets to win the match.
"I told them that we've been in that situation before, and that we just have to be mentally tough and keep fighting," Mellinger said. "We knew at some point we were going to get into a rhythm."
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