LEMONT | Fittingly, Lemont ended the evening with an ace.
After the serve from the Indians' Blair Cremerius glanced off Crystal Lee's forearms, the T.F. South hitter's shoulders slumped, she walked to a court side chair in the Lemont gym and sat, as helpless to stem the tide of tears that followed as the Rebels were to field Lemont's serves when it counted in the Indians' 25-23, 22-25, 25-13 win Tuesday.
The loss snapped South's 18-match winning streak and left the Rebels tied with the Indians at 6-1 atop the South Suburban Blue standings.
South hasn't won a conference title since 2008, while Lemont (14-4 overall) has won four straight -- the latter doing more to explain why Lee wasn't the only Rebel wiping away tears.
"We came in here 18-1," Leah Lagestee said. "I don't think anyone expected this. And the seniors aren't going to get another chance to beat them."
The Rebels frittered away the chance they had this time with stunning suddenness.
After blowing a 19-16 lead in the first set, South (18-2) regained momentum late in set 2, rebounding from a 13-9 deficit to even the match behind six kills from Madyson Anthony, who finished the night with a team-high nine.
But, in Set 3, Anthony struggled on serve receive and Lemont's Kelly Ferguson, a 6-foot-1 middle hitter with a heavy topspin jump serve, zeroed in on her.
Taking the ball with the Indians up 3-2, Ferguson served for 10 straight Lemont points, five coming on aces. By the time Ferguson finally sent one long, the Indians had a 13-3 lead. South never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
"Serve receive, serve receive, serve receive," South coach Kim Sands said. "We had momentum going into the third game, but we shut down on serve receive. You can't run offense if you can't pass the ball."
Lemont's Cara Howell had 10 kills on the evening, and Ferguson six to go with three ace blocks. South had contributions of eight kills from Crystal Lee and five kills and three blocks from Jenna Pasko.
"In the third game, Kelly really just found a groove," Lemont coach Chris Zogota said. "They had trouble making that adjustment, and you have to be able to make that adjustment.
"They're very intimidating, being as tall as they are, but our girls were very relaxed tonight in our own gym."