By (Ben Boyton)

After junior middle blocker Leah Lawrence’s second of back-to-back kills touched the floor, her Alabama teammates mobbed her in celebration. The Crimson Tide scored the last five points of the final set to cap off a five-set comeback win at home against in-state rival Auburn in front of 1,266 fans.

“Five set matches are always exciting,” junior libero Natalie Murison said. “You get to the fifth set and we always say, ‘Anything can happen,’ so I think we did a great job of coming out and competing really well.”

The first set went well for the home team. The Crimson Tide doubled its opponent’s hitting percentage in a 25-21 set win, posting a mark of .359 while limiting the Tigers to a .158 percentage. The next two sets did not go as well for the Crimson Tide, though. Alabama had hitting percentages of .094 and .115 while Auburn won, 25-19 and 25-18, to take a 2-1 lead in the match.

“We came out really strong, which we haven’t [done] in a while, but the second and third sets we kind of hit a slump,” Murison said. “We were just in the locker room talking, you know, ‘Take a deep breath, we’re fine, just control ourselves out there’… and we really just relaxed and trusted each other and got through that.”

The fourth set was a must win for Alabama, and the team bumped its numbers back up. Hitting .300 in the fourth set, the team won, 25-20, to force the decisive fifth set. The momentum carried over for Alabama, as it hit .316 en route to a 15-8 set win to take the match.

“We really kept composed and dug in and just wanted to win,” freshman outside hitter Hayley McSparin said.

Redshirt senior middle blocker Krystal Rivers had 28 kills on a night, moving into first place in program history for total points. Her total of 2,396 points is 4.5 more than previous record holder Erin Heffner. Rivers now trails Heffner in career kills by just 33, too. She entered the match No. 1 in the nation in kills.

“We’ve had some adversity this year with the outside hitting position, and if she wasn’t putting up the numbers that she has I don’t know how we win matches,” coach Ed Allen said. “It’s just that simple. She generates the offense for about two players.”

Murison also had a strong night, with a career-high 28 digs.

“I thought she played like a bulldog in there,” Allen said. “She was aggressive defensively on every play, and she had opportunities because they were going cross court.”

Two other players finished with double-digit digs for the Crimson Tide: senior outside hitter Brittany Thomas had 14 and freshman setter Alexa Tomlak added 10 digs to her 41 assists for a double-double. Lawrence added 10 kills with no errors and a .400 hitting percentage to her team-leading seven blocks. McSparin also had an efficient offensive night, finishing with eight kills and a .429 hitting percentage.

The Crimson Tide is now 17-10 on the year, winners of its last two matches, with just four left in the regular season. It travels to No. 6 Florida for a road match next.

“Anytime you win, it does provide momentum for you,” Allen said. “We’ve got a tough match on Sunday against Florida, a team that is clearly one of the best half dozen teams in the country, so we need to go out there and approach it as if we’re playing with the house’s money.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports