Balanced attack lifts Arkansas to win over MS State
The No. 23 Razorbacks entered Sunday's match looking to respond after being swept for the first time this season the night before, and the Hogs did just that with a 3-2 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
The home team claimed the first set just like Saturday, but Arkansas took a 2-1 lead after three. A late Bulldog comeback sealed a 25-23 set four final for Mississippi State and evened the match, but the Razorback offense was unstoppable and hit a blistering .615 in the fifth for Arkansas' first five-set victory this season.
The Hogs are now 11-3 on the season and 2-2 in SEC play. Mississippi State is also 2-2 in the conference, and 9-5 overall.
Arkansas' offensive play was as balanced as it could be in Sunday's series finale, and four Hogs registered 10+ kills in Jill Gillen, Taylor Head, Hailey Dirrigl and Maggie Cartwright. Gillen led the way with 16, while Head was just behind with 12 kills and 10 digs for a double-double. Dirrigl also had a dozen kills on 24 swings with just one error for a team-high .458 hitting percentage.
Graduate middle blocker Tatum Shipes made a big impact on both sides of the ball on the day with a match-high six blocks and three service aces, and a season-high seven kills.
The opening set started close between the two teams, but the Bulldogs pulled away with a 10-5 run and went up by five at the media timeout. They tacked on two more points for a 17-10 edge, which prompted Arkansas to call time. Mississippi State maintained a seven-point lead as the Bulldogs went over 20 points, and the Hogs answered with only two more. An Arkansas service error then closed the opening frame 25-15 in favor of MSU.
There were six ties midway through the second set with neither team giving the other much breathing room, but a 4-0 Hog run spurred by a kill from Maggie Cartwright and capped off by an ace from Gracie Ryan made it 13-10 Hogs. Mississippi State regrouped with a timeout, but Arkansas remained in control and didn't let the Bulldogs cut the lead to less than two. The Hogs hit 20 first with a kill from Cartwright, and the home team huddled again. Ryan answered with another ace, and while the Bulldogs added a pair of points, three straight Arkansas kills finished the second off 25-19 for the Razorbacks and knotted the match at 1-1.
The Hogs wasted no time in the third set and immediately hit the gas for a 5-1 lead early. Mississippi State couldn't generate any momentum out of a timeout, and the Razorbacks continued to pour on with a 7-2 run capped off by back-to-back aces from sophomore setter Hannah Hogue. The Bulldogs called time again down 12-3, but couldn't piece together more than two points at a time, which kept the Razorbacks fully in control. Arkansas never led by less than five after that, and a kill from Gillen brought up set point. Mississippi State got one back through a service error, but Dirrigl laid down a kill for the 25-18 victory and a 2-1 Arkansas lead in the match.
Early errors by the home team gave Arkansas a 6-3 cushion in the fourth, but the Bulldogs added three straight to tie it up, and did again at 8-8. A 3-0 Hog run sent the Bulldogs to a huddle, and while they came within one a few times, Arkansas extended the edge to four at 19-15 with two kills from Head and one from Dirrigl. Mississippi State wanted time after that, but Arkansas stayed steady and pushed the lead to 22-19 off a kill from Gillen. The Bulldogs then answered with four straight points and took a narrow 23-22 lead. Arkansas evened it again, but a service error put set point in MSU's hands, and the Bulldogs finished it 25-23 with a kill and forced a fifth set.
MSU got the first point in the deciding set, but Arkansas settled in and quickly got the lead thanks to a four-point run, kicked off by a kill from Dirrigl. Abigail Archibong made it a five-point advantage for Arkansas with a kill and the Razorbacks led 8-3 at the media break. Shortly after, the Bulldogs scored three unanswered points, and Arkansas called time with a comfortable 12-8 lead. Gillen then added a pair of kills to take it to match point, and Head shut the door on the fifth set 15-8 for the 3-2 Arkansas match victory.
No. 23 Arkansas hosts No. 18 Kentucky (8-5, 3-1) for a pair of SEC matches this weekend at Barnhill Arena. The series opener is set for this Friday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. and Saturday's match will be at 5 p.m. Both matches will be streamed live on SEC Network Plus.