Momentum shifts in volleyball matches can often be difficult to count, but one of them proved paramount to the outcome Thursday evening when host Patuxent upended previously undefeated Leonardtown in four sets in a Southern Maryland Athletic Conference Chesapeake Division match, 25-18, 17-25, 25-21, 25-18.

Patuxent (5-1 overall, 1-1 SMAC Chesapeake) opened the match with a 10-3 run and cruised to a 25-17 victory in the opening set only to watch Leonardtown (5-1, 1-1) take command early in the second game and prevail. With the two teams separated by only a single point through two games, the outcome would largely hinge on the third set.

During a set that was tied on seven different occasions, Patuxent forged a 14-10 lead behind four straight service winners from Jade McGrath, but the Raiders responded with an 11-5 run sparked by brief service runs from Kira Snyder and Julia Bobrowski that lifted the visitors to a 21-19 lead and on the cusp of claiming the set.

Bobrowski’s last serve squarely hit the net and the Panthers then handed the ball to senior Kayleigh Murphy, who admittedly has been struggling with her serves this season. With the match and momentum hanging in the balance, Murphy reeled off five straight winners, including a pair of aces, to lift the Panthers to a 25-21 victory in the set.

“Early in the season I really struggled on serves,” said Murphy, who also plays lacrosse for the school in the spring and is on the verge of announcing her college choice for that sport. “I was definitely a little stressed, but I felt good the whole time and we pulled it out.”

Patuxent senior setter Alex Heist promptly opened the fourth set with three straight winners and later McGrath enjoyed a brief service run for an 11-7 lead. Heist also set outside hitter Jasmine Johnson and junior right-side southpaw Alyssa Eells, who earned more playing time than she had in previous matches, and libero Emma Poteet kept plays alive with her passes and also served well and eventually the Panthers forged a comfortable 18-12 lead.

“Alyssa brings so much energy and so much confidence onto the floor and Kayleigh did a great job serving,” Heist said. “That third set was huge. Once we got the momentum back, we just kept it. Losing to Calvert last week was definitely humbling, but it taught us a lot about ourselves and what we need to do to get better.”

Following a series of sideout points, Heist promptly ended the match with an ace that Leonardtown libero Lily DeVito was unable to pass to her teammates. During the late stages of the match, Leonardtown’s youth and inexperience — the Raiders start three freshmen — was overtaken by the Panthers’ senior tandem.

“We have a lot younger team this year than in previous years and we don’t have the height,” Leonardtown head coach Steve Correll said. “But we still had a chance to hold onto the momentum. Once they got it at the end of that third set, we never got it back. Our girls played hard the whole match, but in a hostile environment like this one their youth showed.”

Through the first two sets the noise level inside the Patuxent gymnasium was barely audible, but eventually football players from both schools arrived to add considerable amps while seated on complete opposite ends of the stands. Leonardtown junior captain Jenna Kline, who spent her freshman year at Calvert High School before moving to St. Mary’s County, appreciated the enthusiasm.

“When our boys showed up it really gave us a lift and when their fans showed up it really gave them a boost,” Kline said. “It was great for both teams to play with all that crowd cheering. I think it pumped up both teams. We have a lot of younger girls on this team and I love being their captain and their mentor.”

Patuxent had coasted to the victory in the opening set and started the second set with a 5-3 lead. But the Raiders claimed the momentum for good on service runs from Bobrowski and Maddie Argobright and solid play up front from middle hitter Shannen Litten. With Bobrowski serving, Litten had three kills and then Argobright followed with three aces for a 16-8 lead.

Twitter: @tblacksomds1

Twitter: @tblacksomds1