PDT Sports Editor
FAIRBORN — The final score didn’t smile upon the Eastern Eagles (27-1) after Friday’s Division IV State Volleyball Semifinal against Kidron Central Christian (27-2), but there was no argument the match had about as much drama as any played in the Ervin J. Nutter Center this weekend.
After dropping the first set 25-21, the Eagles took the second 25-21 and the third 25-18, but the pesky Comets rallied to a 25-23 win in the fourth. Despite being down 10-3 in the fifth, Eastern battled back to tie it at 13.
Three more ties awaited the two teams before Central Christian’s Sydney Mast, who is committed to play at Cleveland State, had a kill and an ace for the final two points to take the set 17-15 and the match.
“That was probably the best volleyball match I’ve ever seen in my life and I have done this for 42 years,” Central Christian coach John Finn said. “I’ve played, I’ve coached and I’ve never seen a match like this.”
The three sets the Eagles dropped were three times the amount of sets the team had lost in the entire 2012 regular season and postseason.
The first set featured three ties and one lead change that came when a Mast kill gave the Comets a 20-19 lead. Eventually another Mast kill gave Central Christian the opener 25-21.
In the second set Eastern roared out to a 9-3 lead behind a pair of Miranda Clark (Match-high 22 kills) kills and a slew of errors by the Comets. Central Christian would rally to bring the deficit to one at 13-12, but the Eagles kept the Comets from closing the gap by any more than two points on the way to their 25-21 win to tie the match at one apiece.
The third set had six ties and three lead changes, but Eastern led the majority of the way. Bailey Helton (12 kills) sealed the set with four kills over the final eight points to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead in the match.
Eastern started well in the the fourth set going up 5-0, but four-straight points went to Central Christian to make it close. Just like the previous set, there were six ties and three lead changes. The final lead change came when Eastern was called for a foul. Despite a kill from Helton, the Eagles were their own worst enemy as a sideout gave the Comets the third set 25-23.
In the shortened fifth set, Eastern found itself down 11-4 and in desperate need of a streak. Assisted by fouls and sideouts, Helton, Chandler Brown (11 kills, 21 digs), Brittany Mounts (54 assists, 12 digs) and Casey Howard (1 kill, 2 digs) all contributed points to knot the final set at 13.
“We hadn’t been pushed to this yet this season, but we had practiced it,” Eastern coach Janet Day said.
Clark had another kill to tie it again at 14 and Helton had yet another kill to tie it against at 15. Unfortunately, Mast, who had been generally contained much of the match, came alive when it mattered the most and sealed a trip to the state championship match for the Comets with a kill and an ace to end it at 17-15.
“I think we got caught not ready a few times. By the fifth game your blockers start getting a little tired,” Day said. “They’ve jumped a lot not not just blocking but hitting. It can wear on you by the fifth game and that’s why you try to win before you get to the fifth.”
Central Christian advances to play Marion Local today at the Nutter Center after the Flyers defeated the Bucks of Buckeye Central in three sets.
Finn and his four seniors agreed after the match that Eastern was the best blocking team they had ever played. The numbers would seem to reflect that as the Eagles had 13 team blocks compared to the Comets total of four.
“Hats off to Beaver Eastern. They are a fabulous team and played their hearts out too,” Finn said. “It was a phenomenal match.”
Eastern’s 2012 season was the best in program history. They finished with a 27-1 final record and Friday’s match marked the team’s first appearance in the Final Four.
“I’m very proud. They are wonderful kids and it’s been a terrific season and they pushed it to the end,” Day said.
The program will lose four seniors to graduation in Rhyanna Day (24 digs in Friday’s match), Chandler Brown, Brittany Mounts and Miranda Clark. The group had four Elite Eight appearances during its tenure.
The cupboard is far from empty for Eastern. Solid contributors Casey Howard, Carson Roney, Madison Knipp, Baily Helton, Cassidy Rowe, Jenny Keppler and Cassidy Roney all return next season.
Bob Strickley can be reached at 353-3101, ext. 298, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eastern 21 25 25 23 15
Central Christian 25 21 18 25 17