COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The 9 p.m. start time was later than usual but the results were the same for 25th-ranked Texas A&M, which extended its win streak to 11 and stayed atop the Southeastern Conference standings following a clutch 25-23, 25-19, 26-24 victory over No. 19 Kentucky in front of 1,701 tonight at Reed Arena.
The Aggies improve to 20-6 overall and 13-2 in SEC play as they completed their seventh consecutive three-set home win to improve to 11-1 at Reed. Kentucky, which entered the match tied with Missouri for second place in the SEC standings, suffered its second consecutive conference loss and falls to 18-9, 11-4.
A&M overcame a six-point deficit in the opening set to stun the Wildcats, who appeared to have the momentum after building an 18-12 lead. The Aggies, however, regrouped during a timeout and began to chip away, going on a 3-0 run capped by a crucial momentum-shifting block by senior middle blocker Shelby Sullivan and sophomore setter Stephanie Aiple to end a long back-and-forth rally and put the Aggies within 18-15. Kentucky countered with back-to-back kills to rebuild a five-point cushion, 20-15, but the Aggies were undeterred. A&M was within 22-19 when Kentucky was whistled for a ball handling error, and McGee and Babers teamed for two huge blocks to tie the score at 22. A&M then took the next point as Kentucky had four hits. Kentucky, which outhit A&M, .158 to .105 in the frame, tied the score for the eighth time as Brooke Morgan tallied her fourth kill, but Aggie sophomore opposite hitter Ashlie Reasor answered with back-to-back kills to complete the comeback.
The Wildcats held an 8-6 advantage in the second stanza before A&M sophomore outside hitter Kiara McGee had a booming kill, and sophomore defensive specialist Gabby Litwin followed with an ace to tie the score. Reasor then gave A&M a lead it would not lose with a kill.
A&M, which hit .211 while holding Kentucky to a .043 hitting efficiency in the set, went on to take a 14-10 lead following back-to-back Wildcat errors. Although Kentucky quickly got back within 14-13 with two kills and an ace, the Wildcats committed three consecutive attack errors to put A&M up, 17-13. Kentucky could get no closer than two points and trailed 19-17 when the Wildcats served into the net, hit into the net and then hit into a block by junior middle blocker Jazzmin Babers and junior outside hitter Emily Hardesty, forcing Kentucky to call its second timeout trailing 22-17.
The Aggies continued to pull away following the timeout as Hardesty tooled the Wildcat block for a kill, and Babers followed with a kill to put A&M at set point, 24-17. A&M served into the net on the next play and then had an errant overpass to set up Kentucky for a kill, keeping the Wildcats' hopes alive. Kentucky, however, hit long on the next play to close out the set and give the Aggies a 2-0 lead in the match.
A&M, which has not dropped a set at home since suffering its only home loss against Arkansas in its SEC season opener on Sept. 27, fell behind, 10-4, in the third set before Reasor and Babers began the comeback, posting back-to-back kills and also teaming for a block to put A&M within 10-7. The Aggies continued to cut into the deficit, eventually getting within 14-13 following a kill by McGee and a block by Sullivan and McGee. The teams traded points until a rare Babers miscue put the Wildcats up, 19-16. Babers came right back, levitating above the Kentucky block to get a kill. Hardesty followed with a kill set up by Sullivan, and the Wildcats' next attack landed out of bounds, tying the score at 19-all. Kentucky hit long on the next play to give the Aggies their first lead since 1-0.
The teams exchanged points and were tied at 23-23 after McGee launched a ball way beyond the baseline. She quickly made up for the error, unleashing a powerful kill to put the Aggies at match point. Kaz Brown tied the score for the eighth time in the set with a kill, but Aggie sophomore setter Stephanie Aiple went back to McGee who put the Aggies at match point for the second time with her eighth kill of the match. Brown then hit long to end the match and complete the Aggies' first-ever SEC season-series sweep over the Wildcats.
Reasor led all players with nine kills, and McGee and Babers finished with eight kills piece. Defensively, Sullivan had six blocks and Babers added five to lead A&M to an 11-8 advantage in team blocks. Sophomore libero Amy Nettles posted a team-high 14 digs, and sophomore Litwin finished with a career-high 13 digs. Aiple finished with 32 assists.
Kentucky, which was outhit .188 to .125, had four players tie for team-high honors in kills with eight apiece, and East Barnard, Texas, product Ashley Dusek led all players with 16 digs.
The Aggies close out their regular-season home schedule Sunday with another huge challenge, as defending league champion and 14th-ranked Florida rolls into town for a 1 p.m. first serve. It will be "Senior Day" at Reed, and A&M's two seniors, Sullivan and Angela Lowak, will be honored following the match.