Jacob Pumphrey, Director of Athletic Communications
MAGNOLIA – Records didn’t matter on Friday evening inside the W.T. Watson Center as both Southern Arkansas and East Central engaged in a thriller of a five-set Great American Conference match that saw the Muleriders prevail late (25-27, 25-15, 17-25, 25-23, 15-11) to snap a five-match losing streak in league play and draw within two games of the eighth and final playoff spot for the conference tournament.
The Muleriders (8-15, 2-8 GAC) powered their offensive attack through true freshman setter Caitlin Murdock who finished with a career-best 50 kills and 11 digs as she posted her first career double-double. Murdock is the first Mulerider setter to hit the half-century assist mark in a match since former SAU student-athlete Katy Cooper notched 63 on November 8, 2016.
Southern Arkansas’ offense hit at a collective .226 (63-27-159); the second-best attack clip in a league match this season. Sophomore Morgan Gross hit an impressive .387 (16-4-31) and of her 16 kills, five came in the final set with four produced in consecutive order that helped the Muleriders turn a 9-7 deficit into an 11-9 lead.
Junior Seven Powers logged a career-best 18 kills behind a .286 hit percentage and totaled 20.5 points. True freshman Rylea Brimhall added 13 kills in a .286 attack effort. All three of the hit clips from SAU’s top attackers on Friday rank in the top ten for the club this season. The team’s 63 kills in the win are the second most in a match for SAU this season.
True freshman Camryn Bihary’s 24 digs led three other Muleriders in double digit digs, including senior Bailey Zoss who added a baker’s dozen and recorded two of the team’s four service aces. Southern Arkansas registered nine total blocks; the fifth match this campaign with nine or more, which came in the form of ten block assists and four solos. Powers produced a pair of solo blocks, while Murdock and sophomore Bailey Cagle each delivered three block assists.
In the opening set, Southern Arkansas trailed 10-7, but used a 5-0 run to claim a 12-10 lead which eventually led to a 21-19 set one advantage. East Central would rally to claim a 27-25 win in the first frame. The Muleriders rebounded in a big way with a 25-15 set two victory that came courtesy of a .393 attack percentage and runs of 7-0 and 8-1.
The third set belonged to ECU as the Tigers posted their highest attack clip of the match at .267 to win 25-17 and put Southern Arkansas on the ropes heading into the fourth.
Like a seasoned heavyweight fighter, the Muleriders kept swinging as Brimhall, Gross and Powers each added a kill on a 4-0 run that brought SAU from a 17-15 deficit to a 19-17 lead which ended with the aforementioned trio logging single kills with Bihary adding a service ace to stamp the fourth set.
It was all grit for Southern Arkansas in the fifth set as a 4-1 lead evaporated into a 7-5 ECU advantage. The Tigers would build a three-point lead at 9-6 and appear to grab the momentum, before a lively W.T. Watson Center backed the Muleriders as part of a 5-0 run that started with a kill from Smith and ended with Gross’ aforementioned four straight kills that changed the direction of the contest as the Muleriders ended the match by breaking an 11-all tie with four straight points that included a kill from Gross and an exclamation point attack from Powers.
Southern Arkansas plays host to Southeastern Oklahoma State in a quick turnaround scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Savage Storm suffered a five-set loss to Arkansas-Monticello on Friday. Live coverage links will be available at www.MuleriderAthletics.com.