VICTORY YELL: Carroll County’s Kelly Layton (11) lets out a yell Tuesday after her big kill put the Panthers a point away from advancing in the 31st District volleyball tourney at Eminence, Ky. She is joined (from left) by Allie Simmons, Karly Prosser, Emily Baker and Brittany Yocum. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
VICTORY YELL: Carroll County’s Kelly Layton (11) lets out a yell Tuesday after her big kill put the Panthers a point away from advancing in the 31st District volleyball tourney at Eminence, Ky. She is joined (from left) by Allie Simmons, Karly Prosser, Emily Baker and Brittany Yocum. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
EMINENCE, Ky. - Although not a thing of beauty, Carroll County did what it needed to do in a 3-1 win over Henry County in Tuesday's semifinals of the 31st District volleyball tournament.

The Panthers outlasted the Ladycats 25-22, 25-23, 20-25, 25-21 in a matchup that was far closer than their previous meeting on Oct. 1 in New Castle.

However, the win guarantees the Panthers a second consecutive trip to next week's Eighth Region tournament and secures a spot in Thursday's district championship against Eminence, a 25-21, 25-12, 25-15 winner over Owen County in Tuesday's second semifinal.

"Not exactly," was the response by Carroll head coach Lynn Eaglin when asked if her Panthers had played the semifinal the way she intended.

"But our players played with a lot of heart and a lot of fight," Eaglin quickly added.

Carroll County's seven-point lead in game two (17-10) was pretty much the biggest either team had all night and Henry County battled back to within 23-22 and 24-23 in that game before the Panthers finally escaped with the 25-23 win.

It was a close match from start to finish - a match in which the final 3-1 score was little indication of how many times the outcome weighed in the balance of a key late point.

According to Eaglin, poor serve reception led directly to the Panthers' 25-20 loss in game three and left the other games hanging in the balance until the very end.

"We set a goal at the beginning of the year to be at 85 percent on serve reception and we were in the 60s in the game that we lost," Eaglin said. "That's something we looked at in the beginning of the fourth game."

Eaglin said while poor serve reception cost the Panthers a lot of scoring opportunities, Henry County's scrappiness and the Panthers' lack of the same was just as much to blame.

"I told them after that third (game) loss that one of the things that was making the difference was Henry County was playing more scrappy and we were playing less scrappy," Eaglin said of her instructions between games. "I think that sent a message to them and we came out playing 100 percent and going after everything in the fourth game."

Carroll's struggles to receive the ball put the team's setters in a bad position to feed the Panthers' attackers at the net. When Carroll received efficiently, the sets improved accordingly and the kills came from big inside hitters Kelly Layton and Michaela Culver and outside hitter Karly Prosser.

Layton had 13 kills on 42 attacks with eight errors, Culver had seven kills on 36 attacks with three errors and Prosser had seven kills on 24 attacks with six errors. The errors were more times than not on balls that were just hard to get to.

The Panthers tallied just 15 solo blocks and two assists with Layton accounting for eight of the solos and one assist and Culver adding six solos while essentially selectively blocking the Ladycats.

Eaglin said Culver's big night at the net is a direct result of the emphasis the Panthers paid to that aspect of their game in practices leading up to the match.

"Yesterday we worked 30 minutes with her on her blocks ... timing had been one of the things she was lacking and just watching the ball ... it really paid off tonight," Eaglin said of Culver.

At the same time, Carroll didn't want to mix it up too much with Henry County's big outside hitter Megan Payton, who provided a handful of spectacular plays at the net but was for the most part pretty quiet.

That was all part of Eaglin's game plan against the strong junior.

"We kept everyone back because I didn't want to get them sucked up," Eaglin said of Payton's power-hitting at the net. "She dominated from that right side of the court but I also made sure my players cheated over to that side because she had a hard time getting her body all the way around."

And when Payton and the Ladycats' middle hitter Kimberly Barmore weren't able to put the ball down into the open court, the Panthers did a respectable job of digging up the hits as Brittany Yocum ended the game with 28 digs, Emily Baker added 17 and Stevie Ogburn had nine.

Yocum also led the way in serving at 16-of-18 with five aces while Prosser was 15-of-18 with four aces, Baker was 19-of-21 with three aces and Ogburn was 13-of-13 with an ace.

Sabrina Young was 7-of-7 serving with an ace but most of those came at crunch time as serving by she and Yocum helped to fuel Carroll's final push to wins in games one and two.

"They were a big momentum changer for us," Eaglin said of the serves.

Henry County (9-18) closes out its season while Carroll (13-13) moves on to play district top seed and tourney host Eminence, now 20-2 overall, 13-1 in the Eighth Region and 10-0 in the 31st District.

The Warriors own a pair of wins over Carroll - 3-1 on Aug. 29 in Carrollton and 3-0 on Sept. 19 in Eminence - while their two losses are 2-1 to Trimble County in the All "A" Classic Eighth Region tourney and 2-1 to Kentucky Country Day in Eminence.

Even before the Warriors had dispatched Owen County Tuesday night, Eaglin said the Panthers were ready for and wanted the tourney hosts in the championship game.

"We're hungry for them," Eaglin said. "They took us for two in the regular season but they were close. We're going to be ready. Tomorrow's practice is going to be the key to how well we play Thursday. I have some things that we're going to work on and we'll be ready for them."