STATE VB: Libby nips Lewistown, crushed by Billings Central; Whitefish falls in first round

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BOZEMAN — Libby coach Cindy Ostrem-Johnston could identify only one silver lining following her team’s nightcap on Day 1 of the Class A state volleyball tournament.

“Well, we still have a shot to come back through,” she said. “That’s the beauty of a true double elimination.”

After getting by Lewistown by the narrowest of margins earlier on Thursday, Libby couldn’t find an answer for Billings Central in the night session, falling 25-19, 25-13, 25-18 at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

“Billings Central is definitely a good team. They’ve proven themselves,” Ostrem-Johnston said. “But I think we hurt ourselves more than they hurt us. A lot of unforced errors. We were off our game.”

If you ask Ostrem-Johnston, Libby was off its game in the first match of the day, too.

The Loggers won anyway, downing Lewistown 22-25, 27-25, 16-25, 25-15, 15-6 in a five-set thriller.

Jayden Winslow (16), Mehki Sykes (13) and Brooklyn Rainer (13) all tallied double-digit kills in the come-from-behind victory. Winslow added 19 digs.

The two teams appeared as evenly matched as possible, and the cumulative score through four sets was 90-90.

Libby was beaten handily in the third set to fall behind 2-1 in the match, but it came back to take the fourth comfortably and the fifth in blowout fashion.

“My captain, Brooklyn Rainer, jumped in there (after the third set), and she said, ‘Guys, we’re not playing with confidence. We’ve got to play with confidence here,’” Ostrem-Johnston said. “That’s what we’ve been pushing. Play with confidence, play aggressive and stay out of your own way and let yourself play.”

Libby faced little resistance in the decisive fifth set.

Trailing 3-2 early, the Loggers reeled off 12 consecutive points and were never threatened again.

“We lost (composure) for a little bit there, but that was the big thing — to be able to come back,” Ostrem-Johnston said. “It’s hard going into five sets and knowing that last game is to 15.”

Libby’s second and final game of Day 1 was not nearly as stress-inducing.

The Loggers failed to find their groove at any point in their winners’ bracket matchup, as the Rams managed to keep Libby off balance with precision serves and a strong net game led by Sydney Hawbaker (14 kills) and Olivia Moten-Schell (11 kills).

Like in the opening-round game, Winslow paced the Loggers in kills (8) and digs (11).

“We were not at our best,” Ostrem-Johnston said. “We need to show up and bring our best the rest of the tournament. We haven’t done that the past two matches. We haven’t played the way this team is capable of playing.”

Libby now must fight to keep its season alive in the double-elimination tournament.

The Loggers will face the winner of the Whitefish-Glendive losers’ bracket game at 4 p.m. today. If they win, they would have another losers’ bracket game tonight at 8 with a trip to the state semifinals on the line.

“They’ve got to have killer instinct,” Ostrem-Johnston said. “We fight back when our back’s against the wall. I thought we played our best when it was 15-24 out there. If we’d have played like we did when the score was 15-24, it may have been a different outcome. It was like, ‘Hey, we have nothing to lose, so we can put it all out there.’ We’ve got to be able to put it all out there from the beginning to the end.”

Libby def. Lewistown

22-25, 27-25, 16-25, 25-15, 15-6

Kills — Libby 48 (Jayden Winslow 16), Lewistown 49 (Anna Zimmer 16). Blocks — Libby 6 (Mehki Sykes 3, Emily Mossburg 3, Brooklyn Rainer 3), Lewistown 5 (Anna Zimmer 3). Digs — Libby 50 (Winslow 19), Lewistown (Jade Phelps 16). Assists — Libby 42 (Alli Collins 41), Lewistown 43 (Becca Bowden 41). Aces — Libby 9 (Winslow 4, Sykes 4), Lewistown 6 (Bailey Collins 2, Ajiah Ross 2, Andrea Russell 2).

Billings Central def. Libby 25-19, 25-13, 25-18

Kills — Libby 29 (Jayden Winslow 8), Billings Central 39 (Sydney Hawbaker 14). Blocks — Libby 6 (Emily Mossburg 5), Billings Central 5 (Greta Peterson 3). Digs — Libby 52 (Winslow 11), Billings Central 76 (Avery Hadley 17). Assists — Libby 24 (Alli Collins 22), Billings Central 33 (Devin Nielsen 31). Aces — Libby 2 (Collins 1, Kylee Quinn 1), Billings Central 5 (Nielsen 3).

Belgrade sweeps Whitefish

BOZEMAN — Playing just more than 12 miles away from the high school, Belgrade entered this weekend’s Class A state volleyball tournament at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse as the quasi-home team.

The Panthers looked right at home on Thursday afternoon, breezing by Whitefish 25-17, 25-15, 25-23 in front of a raucous crowd that made the 20-minute drive down I-90 to Montana State’s campus.

The Bulldogs’ only resistance came in the third set, a back-and-forth game in which Belgrade triumphed late to swipe the match.

Cailyn Ross tallied 14 kills and three blocks to lead the Bulldogs, who were neck-and-neck with the Panthers statistically but allowed Belgrade to run away with the first two sets where it mattered — on the scoreboard.

Whitefish faces Glendive in loser-out play at noon today.

If the Bulldogs advance, they would face Libby in another loser-out game at 4 p.m. and could potentially play themselves into yet another elimination game at 8 tonight with a win over the Loggers, which beat Lewistown and lost to Billings Central on Thursday.

Belgrade def. Whitefish 25-17, 25-15, 25-23

Kills — Whitefish 31 (Cailyn Ross 14), Belgrade 32 (Bailey Christensen 13). Blocks — Whitefish 5 (Ross 3), Belgrade 8 (Gilbertson 3). Digs — Whitefish 68 (Serena Hemmingson 19), Belgrade 58 (Taylor Christensen 15). Assists — Whitefish 26 (Lauren Schulz 12, Becca Catina 12), Belgrade 24 (Jaiden Blakely 24). Aces — Whitefish 1 (Schulz 1), Belgrade 3 (Hailey Winjum 1, Faith Eastwood 1, Blakely 1).

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