COAL CITY — After a controversial and heartbreaking loss to De La Salle in the championship game of the Chicago Christian Invitational on Saturday, the Herscher Tigers wasted no time shifting their focus to Illinois Central Eight rivals Coal City.
The proof was in the pudding, as the Tigers pulled away in straight sets to topple the Coalers 25-13, 25-14 on Tuesday.
The Tigers improved to 6-1 on the season and 1-0 in the ICE conference. The Coalers fell to 2-4 overall and 0-1 in ICE play.
Herscher coach Joel Huizenga knew his team had to pull this one out in order to control their own destiny in conference play.
“We know Coal City has a really nice and athletic team,” Huizenga said. “I believe Coal City, Manteno and us to be the top teams of our conference, and we’ve been talking about what it will take to beat those other teams since the summer.”
In the first set, the Tigers roared out to an 8-1 lead and never looked back, thanks to exceptional serving from captain Olivia Ruder, who recorded three aces during that span. Sophomore McKenna Fitzpatrick helped the Coalers match the Tigers point-for-point for a while, cutting the lead to 15-8 before Herscher pulled away in the first set. Seniors Madison Offerman and Claudia Huston led the final rally with several kills each to put the Coalers away in Game 1.
“It always starts with our serving,” Huizenga said. “We try to keep the team playing against us behind that 10-foot line so they are somewhat out of system.”
The Coalers kept things close early in the second set, only trailing 7-5 behind strong hitting from senior Natalie Durham, but Herscher’s overall play was just too overwhelming. Mady Rogers had back-to-back-to-back aces to push the Tigers ahead 13-5 before contributing three kills down the stretch to run away with the second set 25-14.
“Mady Rogers was a huge difference-maker tonight,” Huizenga said. “She kept the rotation alive hit after hit and kill after kill. She had pinpoint accuracy tonight. She put the ball anywhere she wanted to.”
Rogers led with eight kills on the night, and the Tigers had 11 aces as a team.
She said the outstanding team chemistry between her and her teammates is what separates them from the rest of the pack.
“We all get along really well on and off the floor,” Rogers said. “That keeps us in every game and gives us consistency.
“This is a tight group that always picks each other up and plays for each other.”
Rogers had 8 kills, five digs, three assists and three aces for the Tigers. Offerman had six blocks and five kills. Huston had 11 digs, five kills, two assists, one ace and one block. Jordan Pierce had nine assists, five digs and one kill.
Durham had three kills to lead the Coalers. Fitzpatrick added a pair of kills, as did Colleen Feeney. Rose Feeney had five assists, and Abbie Cullick had 12 digs.
Herscher is back in action at 6 p.m. Thursday against Lisle at home. The Coalers travel to Peotone at 6:15 p.m. Thursday to play the Blue Devils.