High School Sports

Bluffton takes control of region with sweep of Hilton Head High

A year ago in the same matchup, Bluffton High School simply didn't have enough firepower to hang with rival Hilton Head High, which rode a senior-laden lineup to the Class 3-A Lower State title.

A year later, the Bobcats have plenty of artillery.

Led by Mackenzie Cooler and Jordan Franklin, Bluffton swept Hilton Head High and Cane Bay on Tuesday to remain undefeated in Region 7-AAA play.

The Bobcats opened the night by making quick work of Cane Bay -- 25-10, 25-10 -- and the Seahawks followed suit with a 25-16, 25-16 win over the Cobras to set up a matchup of unbeaten teams in region play.

But the young Seahawks were no match for the Bobcats.

Bluffton (24-10, 8-0 Region 7-AAA) controlled the first game from the start, cruising to a 25-15 win, and although the Seahawks (9-6, 6-1) twice pulled within three points in the second game, the Bobcats closed it out at 25-21 for the sweep.

"The girls came to play tonight. They did very well," Bluffton coach Al Stern said. "The end of the second game we made it a little difficult on ourselves, but they played well tonight. They were hustling. They were making good plays, good decisions. It was a good night."

It was another big night for sophomore sensation Cooler, who had a team-high 14 kills and 11 assists in the two victories. Franklin added 13 kills and eight assists and was 23 for 23 serving.

"We saw how they were doing against other teams we had played and beat, so we kind of knew we had to step up our game," Cooler said. "We really came together. That was probably our best match ever."

The Bobcats hope they're saving their best for the playoffs, though. They now have the inside track on the region title and the No. 1 seed that comes with it, and Cooler said they've set a goal of improving by one percent at every practice, a step-by-step process they hope will lead them deep into the playoffs.

As for the Seahawks, now that they've seen the region's best, they know where they need to improve before the teams meet again Oct. 18 at Bluffton.

"I thought their defense was pretty impressive tonight," Seahawks coach Garret Talarczyk said. "They picked up a lot of balls. We haven't really played a team like that since we started this rotation.

"We looked young," he added. "We made some rookie mistakes, but we'll work on it."

The Seahawks cruised past Cane Bay, getting 16 assists and three aces from Elaine Natoli and five kills apiece from Brantley Harrington and Sierra Davis. Natoli added 12 assists against the Bobcats, but no Hilton Head High player had more that Kensley Phillips' four kills, as the Seahawks struggled to match up against the more powerful Bobcats.

"Hilton Head played well, and they've got huge potential," Stern said. "We just had the bigger guns tonight."