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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Elmore County's Mirriam Foster (13) pushes the ball over the net during Thursday's super regional match.

Elmore County suspected its path to the state tournament was not going to be easy and the Panthers confirmed that the hard way when they ran into LAMP at Thursday’s South Super Regional in Montgomery. For the second straight season, Elmore County fell in the first round, losing 25-19, 25-16, 25-11.

“We knew it was going to be tough for us,” ECHS coach Kim Moncrief said. “That’s a strong area. All four of those teams could go to regionals and state. We knew we had to be at the top of our game so we wanted to come out here and compete and do the best that we could to beat them. We just fell short a little bit.”

After falling behind by nine points early in the first set, the Panthers started putting together a comeback to cut the deficit to 21-17 but they could not get any closer as LAMP shut the door and dominated for the rest of the match.

“They did a great job of making us play defense a lot,” Moncrief said. “We were able to get some balls off the floor but we have to do a better job of turning those into assists. We have to be able to play a little better off system to get kills out of that.”

Libero Brianna Baker finished with seven digs but it was Elmore County’s top hitters that were affected the most by LAMP’s offense. Mirriam Foster led the Panthers with eight digs and Katie Pollard added six but neither of them could get a rhythm going in the attack.

Kelley Green led the offense with seven kills on seven swings as the Panthers still converted on 51 percent of their swings but they were limited in their number of attacks. Foster finished with just five kills while Pollard had four from outside. Middles Madison Britt and Katie Pack combined for three kills and one block.

“They had some height at the net so they were able to block and time our hitting pretty well,” Moncrief said. “Their middle hitters are really good and we made a few adjustments to that but we couldn’t get our offense going the way we needed it to.”

In the third set, Elmore County battled to a 7-6 lead as it looked to keep its season alive but LAMP turned it up a notch 

to pull away. The Panthers dropped 12 straight points and Moncrief said she could tell her players were losing their focus.

“I believe it kind of got to them a little bit mentally,” Moncrief said. “It’s tough. They’re running high on emotions. We were competing with them for a little bit in that third set but they started pulling away. We still had to play to the end and I’m proud of them. There’s just a lot of pressure.”

Despite the loss, the Panthers finished the season 15-9, marking its seventh consecutive winning season. Moncrief said she wants her players to focus on the season as a whole rather than the final match.

“Overall, it has been a successful season,” Moncrief said. “We have had some ups and downs to learn a lot of things mentally. Since that Holtville (loss), they turned it back on and have had a very good mindset. (Thursday) was just about running into a very good offensive team.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.