Montana State Bobcats volleyball 2 (copy)

Montana State’s Kira Thomsen hits the ball earlier this season.

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Montana State’s time at the Big Sky tournament was short-lived as Southern Utah rallied for a 25-23, 14-25, 21-25, 25-22, 15-12 win over MSU on Wednesday night in the opening round of the league’s postseason tournament.

Montana State (10-5) looked like the No. 3 seed it was early, jumping out to a 6-0 lead following a Kira Thomsen service ace.

The Bobcats held a 17-11 advantage midway through set on a Hannah Scott kill, but Southern Utah (9-7) went on a 10-2 run to take a 21-19 lead down the stretch. MSU evened the set at 21 on a Southern Utah hitting miscue, but the Thunderbirds closed out the opening frame on a 4-2 run to complete the comeback.

“The opening set really set the tone for the match,” MSU head coach Daniel Jones said. “We had a big lead and took our foot off the gas, and (SUU) were good enough. To me, the better team won tonight. If you look at the match, you might say the more talented team lost, or the team that had the higher seed lost, but to me, there is no doubt about it that SUU was the better team and a tip of the hat to them.”

Montana State kept its foot on the pedal in the second set, storming out to a 13-3 lead and building a 21-10 cushion on a Delaney Shearan ace. MSU closed out the set as Allie Lynch posted an ace as well.

MSU kept its momentum coming out of the break, leading 16-10 midway through the third set following an Avery Turnage kill. Thomsen won a joust at the net to give the Bobcats a 22-16 lead, and MSU closed out the stanza following a Thunderbirds service error to take a 2-1 lead in the match.

“Definitely, in the second set we got on a good run, and we started to stamp our authority on the match,” Jones said. “We got the third set as well.”

The fourth set featured ten ties and five lead changes. Leading 17-14 on a Thomsen kill, Southern Utah recorded three straight points to even the set. The frame was tied three times down the stretch before the Thunderbirds pulled away behind two kills from Stacey Hone.

“In the fourth set," Jones said, "I felt we had moments where we could really stretch our lead and get away from them, but we never quite put our foot on the gas. We kind of stayed in second gear.

“Again, hats off to Southern Utah,” Jones added. “They got to balls that would normally fall against other teams. They did a really nice job playing structured defense and playing the system that took away some of our strengths. They executed a good game plan.”

Playing its seventh fifth set of the season, including a five five-set winning streak, MSU got out early in the deciding game by taking a 7-4 lead on a Scott kill.

SUU was not deterred and rattled off a 9-1 run. MSU battled back to 14-12 behind three kills from Thomsen, but the Thunderbirds capped the contest on a kill by McKenzie Dowell.

“SUU started riding the momentum in the fifth set, and we gave up a huge chunk of points,” Jones said. “We struggled to find an answer. We’re a very talented volleyball team, and we’re just not there yet, and this is another great learning experience and opportunity to grow. The exciting part is that we get to do it all over again in four months, when you typically have to wait nine.”

Scott led MSU with 16 kills and added 11 digs and four blocks. Thomsen notched her eighth double-double of the season with 15 kills and 12 digs.

Bobcats middle blocker Emma Pence ended with nine kills and a team-high six blocks. Defensively, Libby Christensen posted a career-high 27 digs to guide MSU in the back row.

As a team, the Bobcats held advantages in kills, aces and digs, but Southern Utah held the advantage in hitting percentage and blocking (15-9), which caused MSU fits all match.

MSU finished the season with its second-straight winning campaign, a program milestone that hasn’t been reached since the 2003-2004 seasons. The Bobcats’ third-place Big Sky finish was also the best since 2004.

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Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

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