JACKSON, Ohio — As the Eastern Lady Eagles opened up their largest lead of the entire match, something — all of the sudden — went amiss.
Unfortunately for Eastern, as Newfound Glory once sang, it was all downhill from here.
That’s because the Lady Eagles, in Wednesday night’s Division IV district semifinal volleyball bout at Jackson High School, found themselves swept by the Portsmouth Clay Panthers — 25-23, 25-13 and 25-20.
The loss ends Eastern’s season at 14-10, while Portsmouth Clay climbed to 19-5 — and advanced to Saturday’s Division IV district title tilt against South Webster.
The Lady Eagles, competing in their 20th district tournament in the past 21 seasons, opened up a 14-10 lead in the first game.
But from there, Eastern began making unforced error after unforced error, and Clay kept attacking with its go-to hitters Jensen Warnock and Taylor Lewis.
The end result was a three-set sweep, in which the young Eagles almost forced a fourth game but came up short.
“We had a lot of unforced errors tonight and I thought Clay did a great job of attacking. They had us on the defensive all night and we could never seem to get in system,” said Eastern coach Katie Williams. “Clay is a good team and we didn’t play our best. But it is what it is, and the girls can use this as motivation for the future.”
In an opening game that featured 10 ties and six lead changes, an Allison Barber kill gave the Lady Eagles their largest lead at 14-10.
But the Panthers scored four consecutive points — on an Eagle service error, an attack error and two Delanie Gilliland aces.
Another Gilliland ace put the Panthers ahead 24-23, and Clay clinched the first game when the Eagles were called for a net violation.
Eastern’s only advantage in the second set was at 1-0, as the Panthers scored in straight stretches of four, five, three and finally four again to lead 22-10.
Warnock hammered home two more kills to make it 23-11 and 24-12, before another Eastern net violation gave Clay a two-games-to-none lead.
“We made a lot of errors that weren’t characteristic of us,” said Williams. “We could never get the momentum back.”
The Eagles briefly rallied in the third game, erasing a 16-10 deficit with six straight points, as kills by Barber and Morgain Little tied the set at 17-17 and 18-18.
But Clay collected five consecutive points — back-to-back kills by Lewis and three straight aces by Jaelyn Warnock.
Eastern earned two more points on back-to-back Panther errors, but an Eagle service error and a Gilliland kill clinched the contest for the Panthers.
Jensen Warnock amassed 14 kills to pace the Lady Panthers, as Lewis landed 11 along with three blocks.
Gilliland garnered six kills and four aces, as Jaelyn Warnock also had four aces and Lila Brown three.
Brown set for 29 assists, as Jaelyn Warnock notched 13 service points and Gilliland nine.
Shaelyn Vassar and Jaelyn Warnock led the defense in digs with a dozen apiece, along with nine apiece from Jensen Warnock and Brown.
Katlyn Barber, in her final match as a Lady Eagle, led the way with nine kills — along with Mackenzie Brooks.
Brooks had two blocks, while Barber also paced the defense with 13 digs.
Morgan Baer set for 28 assists, while Little landed six kills and an ace — as Brooks and Barber served up an ace as well.
Barber and Abbie Hawley are the only Eagle seniors.
“I’m really proud of those two girls. They have a lot of character and work ethic and we’re going to miss them as leaders and great girls in general,” said Williams. “We’ll have a hard time filling those two spots, but I think some underclassmen have the ability if they want to work for it.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106