BATON ROUGE, La. - Already with a five-set match under their belts in the first meeting just earlier this month, the LSU and Auburn volleyball teams were destined for another thriller as the two sides put on a fireworks show Sunday afternoon inside the Maravich Center, with the Purple & Gold Tigers pulling out the win 25-22, 19-25, 29-27, 31-33, 15-11.
Finishing the match with identical hitting percentages of .208, the telling stat of the match came in the 53 ties and 20 lead changes throughout the close, five-set affair. LSU (9-11, 5-4 Southeastern) finished with 66 kills and 99 digs, while Auburn (12-8, 4-4) had 75 kills and 109, but where the match was decided in the end was in Auburn's 30 attack errors and 20 service errors.
"I'm super proud of how hard we played and how well we played at times. This was a roller coaster match for both teams," head coach Fran Flory said. "It's pretty interesting that the hitting percentage ends up equal on both sides. That shows you how close the match was. A couple of plays separated each set. I can't say enough how hard we fought and how much we believed in each other today."
LSU finished with three players with double-digit kills on Sunday afternoon to help snap its two-match losing skid, led by Gina Tillis who finished with 19 on a .486 hitting clip with four blocks. Tillis committed just two attacking errors on 35 total swings, leading the team with 21.5 total points.
"We had a lot more fight in this game, from the beginning and finishing in the end," Tillis said. "Even though we lost Wednesday, we knew we needed to bounce back."
Cati Leak and Mimi Eugene each finished the day with double-doubles, as Leak had 17 kills and digs to go along with three blocks, while Eugene finished with a season-best 16 kills and 14 digs.
Setters Lindsay Flory and Cheyenne Wood combined for 54 of LSU's 61 assists in the win, with Flory leading the way with a season-high 28 and Wood finishing with 26. Flory also added three kills, two blocks and a dig, while Wood nearly earned a double-double with nine digs.
Returning to the libero position in a big way, senior Haley Smith produced her finest defensive performance in an LSU uniform by finishing with 39 digs to lead all players, netting a new career high in the process, with five assists. The 39 digs is tied for the second most in a five-set match, while also being the third most in a match at LSU.
"You have to give the credit to the blockers. They did a great job," Smith said. "We worked on blocking a ton for Auburn this week. They run a quick offense. If the blockers aren't in their spot, I can't be in my spot. It pretty much goes to them. It shows how disciplined they were."
Along those same lines, LSU finished with 13 team blocks in the victory, led by freshman Olivia Beyer who produced a match-leading six, followed by Emily Ehrle's five. The duo combined for four of LSU's six solo blocks having two each, as Ehrle also finished the day with eight kills on a .240 hitting percentage and three digs.
Courtney Crable led all players with 20 kills in the loss for Auburn, adding nine digs, a block and an assist. Alexa Filley had a double-double with 61 assists and 24 digs, with two blocks and a service ace, while Jesse Earl also finished with 24 digs.
Brenna McIlroy was the final player to earn a double-double in the match with 15 kills and 21 digs, adding four blocks for Auburn.
LSU forged out into the match hitting .234 as a group with 13 kills and only two errors in the frame, digging up 20 shots as a group, fighting its way through 12 ties and three lead changes in the opening tilt. Auburn hit just .174, having 15 kills, but combined for 13 unforced errors in the frame to LSU.
10 of the ties and two of the lead changes all came within the first 28 points of the set. Auburn would go into the media timeout leading LSU 15-14, finding ways to hold off Tiger rallies that would cut the visitor lead to single digits. The match was turned on its ear when down two at 21-19, LSU would go on to net three straight points to go up 22-21 and force Auburn into burning a timeout.
Although Auburn was able to take the point out of the break, it would be the final one for them in the set as took the last three points of the set to take the first 25-22 to go up 1-0 in the match.
The second set featured the second fewest exchanges between the two sides, as Auburn regrouped to hit .306 in with 14 kills, while LSU only managed a .103 average with 11. At a 10-10 stalemate, Auburn would go on to score seven of the next eight points to take a 17-11 lead over LSU at that point. Although the Tigers would be able to cut the Auburn lead to just three at 20-17, it would be the closest the squad would get as Auburn knotted the sets at 1-1 with a 25-19 second set win.
The hold-your-breath nature of the match really kicked off in the offensively-powered third set after the intermission break, as the two sides combined for 36 kills, with LSU hitting .395 in it, the highest for either team in the entire match, to Auburn's .277 clip. LSU matched Auburn's 18 digs with 20 of its own, while Auburn countered with 18 assists to LSU's 16.
Although the lead only changed hands twice, the 14 ties littered throughout made for a roller-coaster rush for both teams throughout the lengthy third. Auburn seemed to be well on its way of taking the set after going on a 5-1 run to take a 20-16 lead over LSU, forcing LSU into using both of its timeout sitting on a 23-19 lead.
Refusing to quit, LSU went on the counterattack, scoring four of the next five to pull within one, and then tying the match after a block from Flory and Ehrle to even the set at 24-24. That run sparked a back-and-forth blow-for-blow finish, as after getting to 27-27, a kill from Tillis and an Auburn attack error pushed LSU over the top to take a 2-1 lead, winning 29-27.
The third paled in comparison to the madness that was the fourth, as even though both hit in the .100's, the two sides again combined for 39 kills, 39 assists and 67 digs by its finish, featuring 19 ties and 10 lead changes, the most of any other set on the afternoon.
The action ramped up after LSU called its final timeout after watching its four-point lead slip to a 21-all tie late into the set. Neither side would allow other to gain any real advantage from then on, as 10 of the set's ties came after each side reached the 21-point mark. After eight opportunities combined to put the match away, on the ninth attempt now in the 30's, a Eugene kill would tie the third at 31-31, but a pair of blocking errors by LSU gave Auburn the final two points it needed to send the match to another deciding fifth.
Falling behind 4-3, LSU used a four-point swing to take a 7-4 lead forcing an Auburn timeout. The two teams would switch sides and little changed as the visitors burned its final timeout trailing 10-5. Although Auburn would pull within three points at 13-10, LSU needed just two chances to put the match away, winning 15-11 to claim the 3-2 victory.
"When we play Auburn, it's always a dig-fest I guess you can say. It's definitely who can be grittier, who works harder and who can outlast who," Smith said. "When we got them the first time, obviously they came out on top and we went to five again. We knew when we came out today it was going to be about the same thing. We definitely showed resilience as to winning some games and the sets we did lose coming back and being on top today."
LSU will be back in action on Friday, opening up a two-match SEC road swing first with the Tennessee Volunteers at 6 p.m. in Knoxville.