HAMMOND – If pressure creates diamonds, Northwestern State is shining as bright as a 14-carat gem following another win in its 14th five-set match of the season.
For the second straight match in the Southland Conference Tournament, the Lady Demons (19-12, 10-8) fell behind two sets to none before rallying to a 3-2 (23-25, 17-25, 30-28, 25-17, 15-11) reverse sweep.
NSU is the first team in the rally scoring era to play five sets in each of its first two tournament matches. The Lady Demons are now 11-3 in five-set matches this year.
This time the Lady Demons turned the tide against defending champion Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to earn a spot in the tournament semi-final on Saturday against HCU. First serve against the top-seeded Huskies is set for 12 p.m. on ESPN+.
“Our team has worked so hard this year,” freshman middle Jordan Gamble, who led the team with 14 kills, said. “We lost to them twice this year and to beat them here like that, it’s a dream come true. It was fun and exciting to see that happen and be able to pull through.”
Gamble and the Lady Demons turned the match on its head in the third set by putting together a near perfect offensive showing, one they continued the rest of the match.
After hitting below .100 in the first two sets, NSU put together two of their most efficient, highest kill sets of the season in consecutive order. A combined 36 kills on just one unforced error in the third and fourth sets gave NSU the only thing they needed – a chance.
After holding off three straight match points after crossing the 25-point mark in the third on Gamble’s six kill of the set, the pesky Demons finally broke through to gain the advantage on an Islander attack error.
Corpus evened the set again at 28, but a service error gave NSU set point allowing Breana Burrell push one over for the kill that extended the match. The Lady Demons went blow-for-blow with one of the best offensive teams in the conference and used the momentum from the third set to propel them the rest of the match.
“Dropping the first was disappointing which carried over into the second set,” Kiracofe said. “I wasn’t happy with how we reacted in the second, but very proud with how they turned things around to battle back. All we needed was to give ourselves a chance.”
The momentum turned into a dominant fourth-set performance.
NSU committed no unforced errors in the fourth, hitting .421 with 17 kills as every offensive option that took five or more swings in the set, did so without committing an error. Reaghan Thompson had one attack blocked but led the team with four kills in the set to negate the lone Corpus defensive play.
The Lady Demons led from the beginning of the set and pulled away with a pair of 4-0 runs in the middle and near the end. Seven of NSU’s final eight points came on kills from four different players.
NSU had three players finish with double-digit kills, led by Gamble, with each of them hitting over .310 in the match. Addison McDermott finished the match with 11 kills on 26 error-free swings to go along with 14 digs and three blocks.
“I believe our passing was the key,” McDermott said. “We kept ourselves in rallies and were able to side out quickly. That gave us as hitters the opportunity to be able to put away balls.”
Once Gamble’s set-winning kill fell in the fourth and the Demons entered their 14th five-set match of the season, there was no turning back.
A 4-0 run near the turn that began on a McDermott kill and Thompson and Symone Wesley block gave NSU a 9-6 edge. The Islanders pulled within a point after a kill and block of their own, but the pressure the Demons have become so comfortable in began to get to the defending champions.
A pair of Corpus errors sandwiched around a Gamble kill stretch the lead back to four for NSU and the Islanders never got any closer the rest of the way.
“The scout hasn’t changed since we saw them the first time,” head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “It just came down to execution and consistency. Addie was huge today, and Jordan got on a hot streak in the third that continued to that end of the match. Really proud of them both for producing when we needed it.