BATON ROUGE, La. -- Backed by big runs, a stout defensive performance and a lively home crowd, the LSU volleyball team powered to a three-set sweep of the Mississippi State Bulldogs 25-17, 25-19, 25-22 Friday night inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Hitting the floor for the first time in over a week, the Tigers (8-9, 4-2 Southeastern) hit .240 as a group with 41 kills, while holding the Bulldogs (13-7, 3-4) to a .101 hitting clip and 23 attacking errors, including hitting into 10 total LSU blocks over the course of the night. Mississippi State could never find an answer for LSU during key stretches, being done in by a 9-2 run in the first and an 18-9 streak in the third, as the Tigers finished with no less than 12 kills in any set in the contest.
"We wanted to have a business-like approach to this match. We felt like we had a job to do," head coach Fran Flory said. "It's easy to play a team when you feel like maybe you have had success against in the past and walk on the court and feel that again. So we took the approach that this was a team that we have never played before. It didn't matter what the name of the school was. We had to play, jump on them early, control the tempo and match early. I thought we did a great job of that."
Combining for 26 of LSU's kill total on the night, the match high went to LSU's attacking duo of Cati Leak and Toni Rodriguez, as the pair not only were the only two players to finish with double-digit kills, but hit at high efficiency clips of .400 and .333, respectively.
"We knew for this game they would run a lot of quick things on offense," Rodriguez said. "I just went out there and made sure to hit shots."
Leak went into the match needing three digs to earn 1,000 for her career, finishing with five as the capturing dig came in the third, becoming just the sixth player in LSU history to have over 1,000 kills and digs in a single career. The Guntersville, Alabama, native also served up three of the team's five aces, had three blocks and an assist.
"It was almost a validation for all the hard work over the years from when I was tiny to until now," Leak said. "The team has always been a contributing factor to why that happened. I am just excited for the rest of the season."
Rodriguez helped lead the team in kills for the second consecutive match and fourth time this season with her 13, adding a block, opening the match with six in the first set alone. The combo of setters Cheyenne Wood and Lindsay Flory proved to be effective as Wood finished the night with 19 assists and Flory right behind with 18. Wood had four digs, while Flory had three blocks and a kill.
Coming one shy of tying her team and individual season best, freshman Olivia Beyer stopped a match-high seven shots against Mississippi State, adding three kills and hitting .375 with three kills and a dig. Katie Lindelow led all players with 13 digs, adding an assist as well.
Alex Warren had nine kills for Mississippi State Friday, with Blossom Sato having 17 assists and Payton Harris having seven digs. The Bulldogs finished with eight blocks as a team, with three players having four on the night.
With the two sides each trying to figure the other out in the first set, Mississippi State fought back from a 5-2 deficit early by outscoring the Tigers 8-4 from that point on to take its first lead of the match at 10-9. The set would feature six ties and four lead changes from that point, leading to a 14-13 advantage for MSU after a Tiger attacking error.
Points would be hard to come by for the visitors as after that last error LSU began to roll scoring the next three to take a 16-14 lead, as after MSU kill, the Tigers came right back and scored three more to take a 19-15 lead after a Leak ace to force a timeout. LSU would do one better after hitting into a block, scoring the next four to go up 23-16 forcing another Bulldog timeout, before claiming the set 25-17.
The second set proved to be LSU's best of the night offensively, finishing with 16 kills on a .357 percentage, earning 64 percent of side out chances in the frame. Leak led with six kills, and hit .750 as Wood served up eight assists while Flory had seven for the second-straight set. Mississippi State had only eight kills and hit .150, hitting into four LSU team blocks.
A much closer start to the second provided for excitement early, but once that passed it looked more like a race for LSU, as the Tigers broke a 7-all tie by going on a 5-2 run to take a 12-9 lead to force the Bulldogs into a timeout. From there, the gap widened as the team would go out by as many as five points at multiple junctures, leading to a 23-16 home advantage by the time the next timeout was called. MSU would score just three more points after that, as a kill by Leak ended the frame with the Tigers up 2-0.
On the brink of a sweep, Mississippi State struggled out of the gate and LSU was on the verge of cruising going up 8-2 and 12-5, leading by as many as nine up 18-9. However, the Bulldogs soon found their resolve, stealing the momentum and putting a scare into the Tigers late.
Just five points from cruising to the sweep at 20-13, the Bulldogs captured the next three points to force LSU into using its first timeout of the match. Hoping to settle the team down, it did little to deter the MSU rally, as the Bulldogs pulled within two at 22-20, forcing the team into another timeout. A kill from Gina Tillis, one of her five in the set alone, made it 23-20, but the Tigers got stuck as MSU pulled two back to pull within one at 23-22.
With no timeouts left, it would be up to LSU to be able to hold on and earn the victory, getting a kill from Rodriguez and closing out with Katie Kampen's second service ace of the match to secure the win for the Tigers.
"We pushed a little hard to try to win instead of trusting the process and keep playing," Flory said. "I was super proud of our efficiency. This was one of the most efficient matches we have had. If you take away the last seven points in the third set, we are probably way higher than that. I'm proud of our offense. Mississippi State is a difficult team to defend. Our serving was the defining factor to take them out of their offense."
LSU will be back in action on Sunday afternoon, hosting the Alabama Crimson Tide at 2 p.m. in the Maravich Center. The match will be televised live on the SEC Network with Sam Gore and Dain Blanton.