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Dunbar turns back depleted Henry Clay

The flu bug got the best of Henry Clay, but so did Paul Dunbar.

In a matchup of Lexington's two top-10 volleyball teams, the No. 8 Bulldogs upset the depleted fifth-ranked Devils in three sets at Henry Clay, 25-9, 17-25, 25-23.

It was the first in-state loss of the season for the Devils, who were missing two starters and had several other players battling illness.

The defending 11th Region champion Bulldogs (26-8), who are just now getting healthy from similar illnesses, just wanted to make the most of every opportunity they got, they said.

"We took advantage of every situation," Brianna Hill said.

Maddie Hatcher, who tied Hill with a game-high 10 kills, agreed.

"We let Henry Clay make the mistakes and earned every point that we could," Hatcher said.

The Devils (29-3) made plenty of mistakes in the first game and fell behind 19-2. They had seven errors in the first 17 points, leading to easy Dunbar points.

"We knew they were missing a couple of players, but we expected them to put up more of a fight," Hill said. "Then we knew, in the second game, they weren't going to quit, that they'd be angry we'd done that to them."

Hill was right about that. The Devils responded to the first-game drubbing with a 4-0 run to start the second game.

To see Henry Clay respond pleased Coach Dale Grupe, whose team came into the match on a 12-game win streak.

"They definitely could have been rattled after that first game," Grupe said. "(Dunbar) came out strong and took it to us, but we didn't help matters by shanking passes all over the place."

The lead ballooned to 20-12 behind good play from Kate Stromberg, who had five kills and seven blocks for the match.

"I was confident we'd eventually settle down and make a match of it, and we did," Grupe said. "I was quite pleased with the match, but it would have been nicer to win."

In the decisive third game, Dunbar grabbed another quick 6-1 lead behind three kills by Hatcher, who heard "traitor" taunts from the Henry Clay student section all night. She played for the Devils her freshman season before transferring to Dunbar.

The Dogs' lead expanded to 11-3 before Henry Clay stormed back with a 12-1 run to take a 15-12 lead. A hitting error was called to tie the game at 19, and then Dunbar used a 5-0 run to lead 23-19.

Henry Clay wasn't done yet, though. They made it 24-23 before eventually falling 25-23. Hill had the final kill to win the game for Dunbar.

"We are good in pressure situations," she said. "We've come back in multiple situations and won, so we knew we could do it. We just had to actually do it."

Coach Jenni Morgan was proud of her team's victory.

"If we can come out and play like we did the first game, then we can be a great team," Morgan said. "They have great players with or without their two starters."

Grupe tried to find the silver lining in a loss.

"I'm quite happy we got some experience playing some other people tonight," Grupe said, "and it's going to make a big difference down the road for us."