UNION GROVE — Making their return to postseason after a year’s absence, the White Oak Ladynecks fended off a strong challenge from the Ore City Lady Rebels, taking a straight set sweep 25-22, 25-22, 25-18 here Tuesday in Class 3A bi-district round play.

Sophomore Lexi Baker led a balanced hitting attack for the Ladynecks as they overcame sizable deficits in all three sets to manage a clean sweep. Baker’s eight kills were accompanied by seven from both sophomore Kaylee Wilkinson and junior Alysa Hall, six from freshman Anna Iske and five more from senior setter Natalie Reed.

White Oak, which improves to 25-18 overall, heads to the regional round and will face Prariliand at a site and time yet to be determined.

Ore City, which finishes its season at 18-16, was led by junior hitter Abby Ervin’s match-best 15 kills.

“I just think we were a little tight. This was their first playoff game in a couple of years and it showed early,” said Layneck coach Carolee Musick, who returned to White Oak this year after spending the last six seasons at Pine Tree.

“We’ve been on an upswing, getting stronger in our game mentally. I just think today we played a little tight. Fortunately, they did well enough to win in three and hopefully get their playoff legs underneath them.”

This was the second meeting of the season between these two schools. White Oak notched a three-set triumph early in the season at Ore City.

But there was no question, however, these were two entirely different and much-improved ballclubs.

The Lady Rebels started fast and furious in the first set and stormed out to a 6-0 lead behind the red-hot serving of junior setter Jade Draper. She was helped significantly by a pair of kill shots from junior middle hitter Jailyn Cook, who finished the match with seven slams of her own.

White Oak finally broke serve when Wilkinson put one down on a nice feed from Reed, who wound up with a game-high 36 assists for the Ladynecks.

Ore City held firm to its lead as Ervin sent one to the floor at 11-5. It wasn’t until Iske, on a nice assist from Reed, broke serve at 6-11.

An ace from Draper swelled the Lady Rebel lead to 18-13 before Wilkinson came through with a kill to return serve to the Ladynecks at 14-18.

Senior Stormy Riley served an ace and got a slam from Hall as White Oak inched to within 17-18. The Ladynecks eventually pulled even as freshman Emma Hall knotted the score at 20-20 and slipped in an ace as White Oak had its first lead of the opening set, 21-20.

A Baker kill followed by a Baker ace moved the Ladynecks within a couple points of completing the rally. Ervin and Draper kept it interesting for Ore City with a couple bombs.

A double-contact infraction sewed up the opener for White Oak. The Lady Rebels started the second by jumping out to a 3-0 lead as Draper provided the service spark.

White Oak eventually pulled square at 7-7 as Hill warmed up from the service line with three unanswered. Reed, as she did several times in the match, came up clutch with timely dump shots. Junior Payton Palmer and Iske collected big slams as the Ladynecks eased out to an 11-8 advantage.

The Lady Rebels would not go away and rallied back to take the lead at 12-11 when Ervin buried a back-line kill shot. Three ties and a couple lead changes later, White Oak took command as as Wilkinson dropped a dime and Riley served an ace for a 16-14 lead.

Hill continued with her hot serving and got a couple more kills from Wilkinson to go with an ace and a 20-16 margin. Junior libero Macy Weeks punched out a point as the set moved to point. The Lady Rebels, as they did all evening, responded with a run of their own and pulled to 22-24. Hall closed the door with a delicate touch shot that found the floor for set point.

Three consecutive kills from Ervin enabled Ore City to build a 7-2 lead in the third. But, just like sets one and two, White Oak found the answer. This time it was Hill on the stripe and kills from Iske and Baker, followed by a Reed punch-shot to tie it at 7-7. Reed’s ace gave the Ladynecks a 13-12 lead before Ore City junior Brooklynn Richardson rallied her squad for a 15-15 tie with an ace serve.

Baker stepped up and served out victory for the Ladynecks with five straight winners as Palmer put an exclamation on it with a kill shot on an assist from Reed.

Follow George Whitley on Twitter: @GPigskinprof