The Eastern Michigan University volleyball team took on Ball State University Saturday night at the Convocation Center in the final home match of the regular season, needing all five sets to take down the Cardinals, 14-25, 25-22, 25-21, 20-25, 15-10.
Saturday was also Senior Night for Eastern. Megan Crawshaw, Jill Briner and Natalie Folk were honored after the game.
Crawshaw led the way for the Eagles (17-11, 8-6 Mid-American Conference) with 18 kills, five blocks and four digs.
“She’s been our most consistent attacker all year,” EMU coach Kim Berrigton said. “She’s not the biggest middle blocker but I think she’s one of the fastest and when we can use her speed and get her moving along the whole net, she’s really tough to defend.”
Briner added nine kills and Katie Krasowski had eight.
Melva Smith – a sophomore outside hitter in her first season as an Eagle – added five kills.
Corynne Smith had 25 digs, while Briner and Alyssa Davis had 14 each.
Hayley Benson had 18 kills for the Cardinals (15-12, 9-5 MAC).
The Cardinals got out to a quick lead in the first set, a lead they would not give up. Leading by 10 late in the set, a mix of Ball State’s aggressiveness and Eastern coming out flat allowed the Cardinals to cruise to a 25-14 win.
“Senior night is always tough,” Berrington said. “You’re going to come out really emotional and really pumped up and get a big lead or you’re going to come out like we did – tight [with] players wanting to play perfect. When you want to play perfect, it gets ugly.”
The second set started just as bleakly as the first. Down 20-10, the Eagles mounted a huge comeback. Behind the efforts of Dori Harrison and Crawshaw, the Eagles pulled off a 25-22 win.
“Dori came in right away and played great defense,” Berrington said. “[She] was flying around. They served her, she passed real well.”
Berrington said Harrison’s strong performance – six kills and 12 digs – was even more impressive because she’s been fighting a knee injury.
“She did what we needed her to do and that was big for us tonight,” Berrington said.
The third set was intense. Crawshaw led the way for the Eagles with several key kills in the set. The score was tied 12 times in the set, but Melva Smith’s third kill of the night gave EMU the 25-21 win.
“It’s nice to know that my teammates believe in me and my coach believes in me to let me come in and get in the game,” the sophomore said.
The fourth set started well for Eastern, opening up a quick 10-5 lead. The Cardinals came right back – scoring six of the next seven points to tie the set at 11. The momentum switched in favor of Ball State at that point and the Eagles watched the Cardinals take the 25-20 win.
The final set was the most competitive of the match. The Eagles got out to a 4-0 lead before Ball State came back with four points. Ahead 10-7, Eastern stayed in the lead for the remainder of the match – closed by Crawshaw’s 18th kill of the night giving the Eagles the 15-10 win.
“It’s nice,” Crawshaw said. “Jill [Briner] and I were really clicking tonight and it was a good night.”
The Eagles hit the road for two matches to close out the regular season. The first is Friday when Eastern takes on Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Ill.
The match is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. (Eastern).
“At this venture everything’s a playoff match,” Berrington said. “We can still move up in the standings and the higher seed we [are], the better the matchup is.”
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho