Bucs and Bulldogs battle closely for four sets, Kingston falls 3-1

KINGSTON — An opportunity for the Bucs to solidify their position in the top four slipped through their grasp on Tuesday night, as they battled North Mason closely for four sets, but ultimately lost the match three sets to one.

Despite featuring a revamped Kingston lineup and an unusual amount of ball-handling errors called against the home team, it was still by far one of the most compelling regular season contests this year.

Middle blocker Morgan Halady was in top form as always and led the charge for the Bucs with 17 kills and three blocks, but it was the younger supporting players that stepped up into new roles and made a huge difference

Sophomore Karyss Johnson played both the middle and the outside and finished the night with 10 kills and two blocks. Marion Stejer stepped into an outside hitting role and added five kills and a block and twin sister Ava was a reliable setter all match long, putting her hitters in good position to score. Senior Gabrielle Johnson also added three kills.

“That was energy, that was exciting, that was quality,” said head coach Ed Call.

Halady stepped into the lineup midway through the first set and made an immediate impact. She blocked a North Mason kill attempt to give her side an 8-7 lead, then blasted a kill of her own to further the advantage. A 7-0 Kingston run helped them open a 20-13 lead before the finally put away the Bulldogs, 25-21.

“She was tremendous tonight,” Call said. “Morgan hit the ball a ton.”

The two teams went back and forth the rest of the night. In set two, Kingston pulled within 23-22, but could progress no further. The Bucs then took a 12-9 lead in set three, but it slowly dissipated as North Mason went on an 11-1 run. Set four was tied at 20 apiece, but North Mason rattled off four straight points and finally closed the set after a Halady block brought the Bucs back within three.

It was at the very end of the match the Kingston bench began to grow visibly upset with the ball-handling errors called against them.

“We had 28 ball-handling errors, they had two all night,” Call said. “No way.”

Such a disparity is certainly unusual for two teams that will likely qualify for the postseason. And although the Bucs have less high school experience than the veteran-heavy Bulldogs, they have the benefit of rostering plenty of club players who play year-round. Some of that varsity inexperience was also a byproduct of Call cutting three starters from the team last week due to what he said were “rules violations.”

“That was exactly what you saw,” Call said. “It was not right.”

By no means were the Bulldogs undeserving winners. Their defense was tenacious, their hitting was excellent and they received top-notch performances from their best players, and their consistency allowed them to keep the Bucs from building big leads and eventually take over the final three sets.

But the end result is that Kingston has little room for error over its final three matches. The Bucs are only one game ahead of Olympic and Sequim, and they will get one more opportunity to play each of them. They also have a match against last place Bremerton.

— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at mkrulish@soundpublishing.com. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.