By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – The Ludington volleyball team didn’t get off to a great start in its Lakes 8 Conference showdown match with Muskegon Catholic on Tuesday.

But the Orioles did what they needed to do in the end, particularly when Erin Maltbie got hot.

Kennedy Kirby gets the bump for Ludington. Photo/Michael Banka

Ludington looked shaky and dropped the first set to the host Crusaders, and seemed to be in danger of losing their first conference match of the season.

But the Orioles rallied and won the next three sets to seal a 3-1 victory and take over first place in the Lakes 8.

Ludington is now 4-0 in the conference while Muskegon Catholic and Western Michigan Christian are 3-1.

Maltbie played a huge role in the comeback for Ludington. She led her team with 13 kills, and saved her best play for the fourth and final set.

She had three big kills down the stretch, added a huge block of MCC star Zoie Price at the net, and had three crucial service points.

That’s the kind of season Maltbie is having, according to Ludington Coach Theresa Shoop.

“She is absolutely a take-charge kid,” said Shoop, whose team is trying to win its second conference title in a row. “She was second-team All-Conference last year, and she has a goal of making first team this year. She really lit it up at the net tonight. That was probably the best I’ve seen her play all season.”

The first set belonged to Muskegon Catholic, which clung to a 15-14 lead then pulled away for a 25-18 victory.

Ludington rebounded with an easy 25-14 win in the second set, after rallying from an early 8-4 deficit.

Calvin’Nae Simmons blocks the shot of Ludington’s Tori Clancy. Photo/Michael Banka

The crucial third set was tight most of the way, with the score tied at 5-5, 6-6, 8-8, 9-9, 10-10, 11-11, 14-14, 16-16 and 17-17.

But the Orioles pulled away down the stretch, winning 25-20. Maltbie and Allison Morse brought their team within a point of the set victory when they combined for a block of Price at the net, then Maltbie sealed things up with a big kill.

MCC grabbed a 5-1 lead in the fourth set, Ludington rallied and pulled ahead 9-5, then the teams were tied 14-14, with MCC needing the win to keep the match alive.

But Ludington took control again when it mattered the most, winning 11 of the final 15 points to end the match.

“We were just kind of going through the motions (in the first set), but in the last three we got more involved, mentally and physically,” Shoop said.

Shoop said she had a few comments for her team after the bad first set, but did not raise her voice.

“I don’t really yell too much – I cheer a lot,” she said. “I will yell tomorrow in practice. They already know at this point of the year the things we need to work on.”

Kennedy Kirby finished with nine kills for Ludington, Courtney Gerovac had 20 assists, Mackenzie Luce had 11 digs and Randi Stone served three aces.

Muskegon Catholic hurt itself with unforced errors, particularly in the last three sets when the match slipped away.

“We definitely let the mental errors kind of overtake us,” said MCC Coach Laura Farrell, whose team is 19-10 overall and ranked in the state in Class D. “We had very few in the first set, then in the second it started with the hitting errors and kind of worked its way through the rest of the stats. It was completely mental. It’s something we have to work on.”

Price led the Crusaders with 12 kills. She is about 100 away from reaching the 1,000 kill mark for her varsity career. She also served four aces and contributed defensively with 16 digs.

Amelia Heminger had 27 assists for MCC while Calvin’Nae Simmons contributed eight kills.