NET & FRET: Madison sophomore middle hitter Emily Holland (above, 7) prepares to hammer a spike on Batesville’s Anna Meyer (3) and Rylee Goldsmith (4). The Lady Cubs’ Samantha Knox (below) grabs her jersey during a tense moment in Madison’s 24-26, 25-18, 12-25, 25-20, 16-14 loss. (Staff photos by Mark Campbell)
NET & FRET: Madison sophomore middle hitter Emily Holland (above, 7) prepares to hammer a spike on Batesville’s Anna Meyer (3) and Rylee Goldsmith (4). The Lady Cubs’ Samantha Knox (below) grabs her jersey during a tense moment in Madison’s 24-26, 25-18, 12-25, 25-20, 16-14 loss. (Staff photos by Mark Campbell)
BATESVILLE - In an outcome hauntingly similar to a year earlier, Madison battled defending sectional champ Batesville over four evenly contested volleyball games and an even tighter tie-breaker before falling to the host Bulldogs 3-2 to end the Cubs' season once again just short of its goal.

Madison (24-8) bowed out in Saturday's sectional semifinals 24-26, 25-18, 12-25, 25-20, 16-14 to close out the season while Batesville (28-9) went on to beat Lawrenceburg in Saturday night's championship 20-25, 25-15, 25-19, 10-25, 15-10 to secure the Bulldogs' eighth consecutive sectional crown and 13th overall.

"It's the mirror image of last season and how it was," Madison coach Jeff Lawson said, just outside a Madison lockerroom where players slowly filed out with eyes moist and red. "Same place, same time, same everything. I think that score was 15-13 and this one was 16-14. A real hard-fought battle but we just didn't make the plays we needed to make at the right time. You get to Game 5 and it's anybody's game at that point and today it was theirs."

Madison battled back from a 9-2 deficit in the tie-breaker to tie the match 14-14 on a kill by Samantha Knox. But without a timeout left to regroup, the Cubs fell behind 15-14 on a serve into the net and then Batesville delivered the big knockout blow on a massive hit by junior outside hitter Bailey Baumer on match point.

"To come back and tie it up at 14 says a lot to their character," Lawson said of his team. "That leaves the realm of ability and goes more to the heart and the guts and stuff. The fact that they put themselves in a position to do that, I'm proud of them for sure. I'm just disappointed with the outcome."

In addition to heart, guts and determination, Lawson said Madison's big comeback was fueled by three things: The Cubs put together an error-free stretch, Madison played with the reckless abandon and aggression of a team that had nothing to lose, and 6-foot-3 middle hitter Emily Holland was on the front line to deliver five big kills during the comeback.

"When we got to 8-11 and they called timeout we were back in business. It was like the store was back open," Lawson said. "Of course I'd used all my timeouts because we had done so poorly in the first part of the game that I didn't have any left to curb the tide late in the game. I would have liked to have had one there at 15-14 to call a timeout and make some adjustments but we didn't have them. Everybody in the gym knew where they were going with the volleyball - outside to (Baumer) - and she came through for them."

The Cubs expected a tough battle from the start and the first game proved that and more as Madison came out strong but still had to hang on for a 26-24 win.

Madison then committed 20 errors while dropping the second game 25-18 before playing almost flawless in Game 3 to dominate 25-12.

"Errors," Lawson said on the Cubs' fatal flaw. "Errors cost us big all day. The score in Game 2 was 18-25 and we had like 20 errors. That tells you something about the level of talent that you have when you can have 20 errors and still be within seven points of a good team. The next game we came back and have five errors and the score was 25-12 and it wasn't a contest ... errors were the reign of the day."

That all resulted in an inconsistent attack in which Madison was never really out of a game - or the match - but neither was Batesville. The two teams - and the momentum - swung back and forth throughout until the Bulldogs finally delivered the knockout blow in the tie-breaker.

Trailing 2-1 in games and just a loss away from elimination, Batesville began to fight much harder and establish control in the fourth game when the Bulldogs ripped off a 10-3 run to turn a 9-9 tie into a 19-12 Batesville lead and force Lawson to take his second and final timeout of that game. He delivered not so much a game plan as a message.

"I said 'Look, we're not giving up this game, but we certainly have to make a statement ... We're probably going to lose this game but what we can't do is lose the mental part, too. The way we don't lose the mental part is we play like we've got nothing to lose,'" Lawson said of his message during the break.

Madison did just that by outscoring Batesville 8-6 the rest of the game. It was too little to pick up the win and close out the match but it was enough to once again establish that it was still anybody's match to win.

However, all that momentum was squandered in the first 11 points of the Game 5 tie-breaker when another wave of Madison errors got Batesville off to an 9-2 lead, forcing Lawson to quickly use both of his timeouts to regroup and slow what was becoming a rout.

"To have to keep coming back is absolutely the hardest thing to do," Lawson said. "It really wears on you."

But that's exactly what Madison did over the next 17 points to outscore Batesville 12-5 and knot the deciding game 14-14 before to the final two exchanges decided the outcome.

Lawson said one of the Cubs' problems is that once they tied the game 14-14 the players went into "safe mode" and stopped the nothing to lose aggressive play that got them back in the tie-breaker.

"We keep taking about being a young team but at some point you can't be a young team anymore," he said. "You have to be the aggressor and play to win. We didn't do that in the end and they did.

"To their credit you want to try to find some positives in all this but it's very hard when you work hard all season and get to this point and you fall short," he added. "It's tough, but I think the girls put themselves in position to win this one and I'm proud of them for that - very proud of them."

The sophomore Holland had a monster game for the Cubs with 23 kills on 35 attacks against just three errors to go with nine total blocks.

"She brought us back in Game 3 ... when she finally got back to the front row she just dominated ... they just didn't have anything at her level and when (Baumer) was in the back row they just couldn't match up with her. Unfortunately, a lot of the time we weren't passing well enough to take full advantage of that.

"But when we got the ball up there to her you could see what happened. She was our comeback in Game 5. She got us four or five points there all by herself," Lawson added. "We weren't making any bones about it. We were going to set it to the middle and she's going to pound it down and they knew that's where we were going, too. A that point it's Katy Bar The Door. We're going to go to the middle and let 'er rip."

Senior Samantha Knox had 13 kills, sophomore Olivia Crozier had nine kills and Macky Hecox had eight. Juniors Whitney Wynn and Abigail Demaree played a strong game as Wynn had 48 assists, four digs and seven total blocks while Demaree led the team with 18 digs. Alison Murdock, the team's other senior, served up three aces and had seven digs.

Baumer had an equally monstrous game for Batesville as the 5-foot-10 junior had 24 kills on 43 attacks, three service aces and 19 digs.

"She's going to Ball State," Lawson said of the Bulldog star. "She's a D-I caliber player but that's no excuse. We've got a couple of D-I caliber players ourselves. It's just unfortunate."

Lawson loses Knox and Murdock to graduation but returns three juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen. That will make for another offseason of club volleyball for the players and second-guessing for the coach.

"You always hate to lose a game when you feel like you have superior talent. That comes back to coaching. It makes you question yourself and ask 'what didn't I do as a coach that I can take a team as talented as this one and not win the game?" Lawson said.

He said his young Cubs have grown since last year's disappointing loss to Batesville and must now do the same before next year.

"I think it's more mental growth than physical growth ... But you'd like to see that play out in the sectional someday," Lawson said of that growth. "You look back at the season and you can't throw the whole season away over one game but this one hurts. You can look back and say 'Yeah, we had a great season' but when you've got girls in there crying in the lockerroom, that doesn't seem to help them."