FAIRBORN ? Beaver Eastern found itself in unfamiliar territory Friday afternoon and because of that, it found itself out the Division IV state volleyball tournament.
The Eagles lost one set all year, but lost three to Kidron Central Christian at the Wright State University Nutter Center as the Comets clipped Eastern in five games, 25-21, 21-25, 18-25, 25-23, 17-15.
"That was probably the best volleyball match I've ever seen in my life. I've done this for 42 years (between playing and coaching) and I've never seen a match like this," Central Christian coach John Finn said. "These kids and their teammates played their hearts out, which they had to do. It was just a phenomenal match."
The Comets (27-2) move on to face Marion Local, who bested Buckeye Central in three sets in the other semifinal.
"We know a little bit about their tradition. We know they're extremely well coached. They have a great system," Finn said. "They build and year-after-year and they're no strangers to this tournament."
The Comets trailed in every set until the final one when Christian Central took a commanding 10-3 lead to open up the game, causing Eastern to burn both timeouts in the process.
But the Eagles (27-1) clawed back to make it 12-8 before Finn called the first timeout. But Eastern wasn't done as it came back to tie at 13.
"I thought it was huge. We've had to some success in game fives this year and we tried to use that frame of reference and look back and see what things we've done this year that we can fall back on. So we felt good about game five. (We) came out just phenomenal," Finn said. "Maybe we stepped back a little bit but give (Eastern) some credit. I think they stepped it up. Even when its 13-10, we're still in pretty good shape, but they battled and admittedly we stepped back and we just can't do that."
The two teams tied at 14 and 15 before Cleveland State-bound Sydney Mast hammered home a kill and followed it with an ace to close out the victory.
"I thought we took it to the very end. We finished strong," Eastern coach Janet Day said. "Defensively, we struggled a little bit, other than blocking. I thought we took care of some nice blocks a few times but defensively, we got caught not ready a few times. Overall, I thought either team could have won that game. It came down to we were pretty balanced against each other. It could have gone either way."
Mast finished with 21 kills and three blocks. She also had three aces. Teammate and fellow front row hammer Makena Granger had six aces as the Eagles struggled with their serve receive all afternoon.
"We don't see a lot of floaters in our league," Day said. "So we don't really see a lot of that until we get into the tournament. So it's lack of experience probably against float serves and even though we ourselves serve some of them, we don't get to see that many of them until we get to the tournament level."
Finn wasn't surprised.
"We feel like we can score from the back line as well as we can from the front line," Finn said. "We want to be aggressive back there."
Granger also caused problems for the Eagles with her swing at the net, with 20 kills.
"We always try to be aggressive in everything we do," Granger said. "When we get down, for me, going back to that back line I feel comfortable because it's just me and the ball so I can pick up the team in that way."
The Eagles' Brittany Mounts dished out 54 assists with four Beaver Eastern players in double figures in kills. Miranda Clark was in beast mode with 22 kills and four blocks. Carson Roney had 14 kills, Bailey Helton had 12 and Chandler Brown had another 11.
Central Christian took the first set 25-21 after trailing by as many as four for the first two-thirds of the opener. But the Comets surged back from down 16-13 with a 12-5 run keyed by errors on Eastern's part and three kills from Mast.
Eastern cruised in the second set, never trailing, on its way to a 25-21 victory.
Eastern led the third set early as well before the Comets climbed back into it and tying it at 11. Central Christian took a brief lead, 15-13, before a 12-3 surge by the Eagles finished off the set. Helton was critical down the stretch with three kills and a block in the final six points.
It looked like Eastern was going to close it out quickly in the fourth set as the Eagles jumped out to a 5-0 lead. But as they had done in two of the first three sets, the Eagles let the Comets back into it and the two teams were squared at 8. Another 5-1 push gave the Eagles the lead again, 13-9, before the Comets battled back to tie it at 17. It was Mast again as she got two kills and a tip down the stretch to finish off the 25-23 victory and set up the final set.
Day said the early lead for the Comets in the fifth set did her team in.
"It's always critical to come out strong in the fifth game," Day said. "It's hard to come back as it is at this level. When there's only four teams left in the tournament, nothing's easy."