The Hannibal volleyball team encountered a scare Saturday in its home opener.
After breezing through the first set against North Central Missouri Conference opponent Marshall, Hannibal saw a 9-point lead evaporate in Game 2 as the visiting Lady Owls stormed back to force game point.
Four consecutive unforced errors allowed Marshall to take a 24-23 advantage, putting Hannibal on the verge of losing a set in NCMC play for the first time since Oct. 11, 2016.
"The lack of communication and balls dropping is hard for me based on how well I know our girls can play," Hannibal coach Kelsey Whitley said.
The Lady Pirates displayed that potential over the course of the next three plays.
Peyton Utterback delivered a kill in the middle that tied the game at 24 to thwart Marshall's momentum. Haley Ballinger served an ace, and Claire Thomas made a block on the final play to seal the deal.
Hannibal improved to 3-0 on the year with a 25-14, 26-24 victory.
"We got a little slow and had a lack of communication in the second game, but we picked it up at the very end," Thomas said.
Thomas, who finished with a team-high seven kills, provided a pair of kills and a block as part of an 8-1 spree to open Game 2 in front of the home crowd at Korf Gymnasium.
The senior disrupted Marshall (3-2) up front and didn't shy away from calling for the ball from setters Kyler Rademan and Kaylee Falconer.
"Sometimes I yell for the ball before it's even on our side," Thomas admitted.
Thomas did it all to secure a point with three touches on one play midway through the second game. First the senior denied a Marshall hit. Then she spiked the ball after being set. When Marshall again got the ball up, she alertly was in position to push down an overpass that lingered over the net.
Whitley mentioned Thomas' strong play was a positive takeaway from the match.
"There is such a difference in Claire this year," the coach said. "She steps on the court and the dynamic of the game changes. She's talking, she's moving, she's blocking. She's getting so many quality touches."
Hannibal grew its lead as large as 13-4 in the second set, helped by a perfectly-placed tip by Abby Baumann dumped to an open area.
But that's when Marshall sprung to life and started chipping away.
Senior Kassidy Heying recorded a block to start a 7-0 run for the Lady Owls to turn a 23-17 deficit into their first lead of the day.
Unwilling to make it easy, the visitors forced the Lady Pirates to earn the win.
"Kudos to Marshall for never giving up and giving us a run for our money," Whitley said. "They continued to take good swings and were hitting some good shots. They picked on us a little bit."
Rademan served back-to-back aces to get Hannibal going in Game 1 and later contributed a back-row kill on a Falconer assist to go up 8-2.
Baumann won a joust at the net to extend the first-set lead to 13-5, and Thomas emphatically slammed a quick kill to make it 20-9.
Maddie Janes deceptively set the ball over the net on the next play for a point.
Hannibal had no trouble closing out the first game of the best-of-3 contest.
Janes paced Hannibal with nine digs during the match, while Payton Frick came off the bench for eight. Falconer, Ballinger and Baumann each had five.
Rademan posted 14 set assists, four kills and four digs. Falconer totaled seven assists, four kills and five digs. Baumann finished with five kills in the victory.
"The way we executed wasn't as great as I wanted or they wanted," Whitley said. "At the end of the day, it was a win, but we've got room for improvement. We're not going to dwell on it. The game of volleyball is too fragile to dwell on what happens.
"We don't have time to hang our heads, so we're going to do the best we can to improve."