SOUTH BELOIT – Everywhere the Oregon Hawks turned Thursday night, there was another IC Catholic Knight waiting to make a play.
When the Hawks smashed spikes, the Knights were there to get a touch at the net or dig them up. When Oregon tried the tip game, IC Catholic covered well. When the Hawks got a free ball from the Knights, they couldn't capitalize; when IC Catholic got the same chance, it cashed in.
The result was a 25-17, 25-17 victory for the Knights in the championship match of the 2A South Beloit Sectional.
"We just kept telling each other, 'Get the next point, get the next one,'" Oregon junior Emy Wright said. "We were trying to do everything we could to stop their momentum, but when we couldn't do it, we'd just kept getting more and more frustrated."
The longest run Oregon (29-10-1) had in the match was three points, on just one occasion in the second set.
Meanwhile, the Knights (33-6) took control of the first set with a 7-0 spurt, then scored nine points in an 11-point span to build an insurmountable lead in the second set.
"The key for us all year has been to control the game, build a lead, and then just keep it going," IC senior Delaney D'Amore said. "Our defense was awesome tonight, we have so much capability at the net, and we definitely found our rhythm tonight."
The Hawks, on the other hand, were searching for it in vain. While IC's defense frustrated Oregon, it was the Knights' aggressive serving that really hurt the Hawks.
Errant passes to setter Delaney Mahoney kept the Oregon offense out of sorts, and once the Knights took the lead, the Hawks started pressing even more.
But Oregon coach Faith Watson felt the rough night had more to do with their opponent than the Hawks themselves.
"That's a great all-around team, and I don't have a bad thing to say about this loss," said Watson, who was a senior on the Hawks' lone sectional title team in 2006. "We made a few mental errors and had a few bounces go against us, but sometimes the team you're playing is just better than you. I might get in trouble for saying that, but we knew we'd have to out-strategize them, and we weren't able to."
Oregon led 7-5 in the first set after IC ended a long rally with a spike into the net. A Wright kill made it 8-6, but an Oregon net violation turned the tide. The Knights scored the next six points on two D'Amore kills, two Rory Manion aces, and two hitting errors.
Wright's kill brought the Hawks to within 14-11 a few points later, but that was as close as Oregon would get. Kimmy Martino's block sparked a 4-0 IC run to end the set, and Claudia Koch finished it off with an ace.
Back-to-back IC errors early in the second set gave the Hawks a 9-7 edge, but they couldn't sustain it. A hitting error started a 9-2 Knight run, with D'Amore smashing a pair of spikes and Koch adding a kill to cap the surge.
Mahoney's perfect tip-kill stopped the bleeding, but Oregon couldn't score more than two consecutive points after that. Manion finished off another 4-0 set-ending run with back-to-back smashes, kicking off a loud IC celebration.
"I think our strength all year has been our defense, and our ability to keep the other offense off-balance," IC coach Jean Field said. "We served aggressively tonight, and hit the ball where and how we needed to so they'd get caught out of system a lot."
D'Amore had 14 kills and 10 digs for the Knights, while Manion added 10 kills and 10 points. Martino set 25 assists, and libero Kerry Mulligan added eight digs as IC outkilled Oregon 28-17.
Wright led the Hawks with eight kills, and sophomore Sommer Rhea added five kills and six digs. Mahoney dished 13 assists, Hailey Ling had three kills and six digs, and Jordan Wilken paced the defense with eight digs.
"We were ready for what they were doing; we just didn't hit the ball in the roight spots," Rhea said. "We tried to push through, but we couldn't find any consistency or stability on offense.
"But I'm proud of how we played tonight, and they were just the better team. We'll definitely learn from this, and be ready to come back next year."
Class 2A South Beloit Sectional final
IC Catholic def. Oregon 25-17, 25-17
Star of the match: Delaney D'Amore, IC, 14 kills, 10 digs
Key performers: Rory Manion, IC, 10 kills, 10 points; Kimmy Martino, IC, 25 assists, 2 blocks; Emy Wright, Oregon, 8 kills; Sommer Rhea, Oregon, 5 kills, 6 digs; Hailey Long, Oregon, 3 kills, 1 block, 6 digs