MONROE — There was a stark difference in PCM's volleyball team in the first and second sets against South Hamilton on Thursday night.
The Mustangs were nearly flawless in the opening game but struggled with unforced errors in the second.
Fortunately for PCM, it played a lot more like it did in the first set the rest of the way and downed the visiting Hawks 25-9, 20-25, 25-11, 25-23 during Heart of Iowa Conference play.
"It was a totally different looking team from set one to set two and it was because of the offense," PCM coach Mike Vittetoe said. "We were good when we were on offense and serving tough. We gave points away in the second set."
The win gives the Mustangs some much needed momentum heading into Monday's Class 3A Region 7 quarterfinal with Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont.
But the match with the Hawks nearly went to a fifth set. PCM trailed 23-21 in the fourth but scored five straight to finish off the Hawks.
Claire Wilson ended the match with back-to-back aces.
"Claire stepped up with some big serves there," Vittetoe said. "We have won our fair share of close sets this year. It seemed like we didn't win many of those last year. That's why this season has been an improvement. And you expect that to happen with seniors."
PCM (13-18 overall, 3-3 in the conference) dominated the Hawks in the opening set.
Kills by Celeste Wagaman put the Mustangs up 3-0, 6-2 and 9-3 and a Wagaman ace made it 11-4. Chelsea Bird also had a pair of aces during the first service rotation of the match.
South Hamilton (8-20, 1-5) had better energy in the second set and pushed the Mustangs the entire way.
Three more Wagaman kills put PCM up 5-3 early and the lead grew to as much as 11-6. The Hawks rallied though to get within 14-13.
PCM went back up 19-16, but South Hamilton scored seven straight to flip the script. A Hawk service error got the Mustangs to 20 points but the visitors scored the next two to even the match.
"We were almost flawless in the first set. We hit the ball well and didn't have a lot of errors," Vittetoe said. "In the second set, we started making errors at the net and with our serves. Then they hit it at us. The unforced errors hurt us."
The third set looked a lot like the opener for PCM. The Mustangs started the frame with an ace by Bird and back-to-back kills by Wilson and Wagaman extended the lead to 5-1.
Wagaman blasted two more kills a few points later to put her team up 8-3. The senior middle hitter was on her game Thursday, attacking with hard-hit balls and very few tips to holes.
"I tip it sometimes but most of the time I just want to hit it hard and finish it," said Wagaman, who finished with a team-high 14 kills and added three digs.
Vittetoe said, "Celeste played really well tonight. She's a key to our team. When she's on, she's tough to block. She's one of the shortest middle hitters in the conference, but you don't notice it because she can jump so high."
Riley Hjortshoj added a pair of kills to make it 11-7 and then 14-8. With a 16-9 lead, a long service run by Bird extended the advantage to 22-9.
That stretch included another ace for Bird, who tallied a team-best 17 digs and five aces in the victory.
The most competitive game was the fourth. South Hamilton controlled the tempo early, jumping out to leads of 6-2 and 9-6.
But PCM rallied to tie the set at 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19. A kill by Wagaman and a tip by Jacki Vos put the Mustangs in front 17-16.
A tip by setter Bella Stone kept PCM in front 19-18, but the Hawks used a 5-2 run to take a 23-21 lead. The Mustangs rallied though and Wilson's consecutive aces came after a South Hamilton timeout.
"This win gives us some huge momentum going into the postseason next week," Wagaman said.
PCM plays EBF in the 3A Region 7 quarterfinals at 7 p.m. on Monday in Eddyville.
Stone had a double-double for the Mustangs, dishing out 29 assists and collecting 11 digs. She also was 11-of-12 in serves.
Vos finished with six kills and four digs, Wilson tallied two kills, five digs and two aces and Emma Houser secured six digs.
Kassidy Block put down three kills, Hjortshoj and Emma Reed each had a pair of kills and Lilli Baird added two digs.
The Mustangs were 80-of-89 in serves, led by Bird's 23-of-24.