LOGAN — Everybody knew that Wheelersburg could play three sets with no problem.
The real burning question was whether the undefeated Lady Pirates could play a full five.
Well, with the most emphatic — and dramatic — possible answer, the Lady Pirates pulled off the absolute ultimate comeback on Saturday, and punched the program’s ticket to the state volleyball tournament for the first time in school history.
Trailing two sets to none to the powerful Hiland Hawks, and facing match — and even regional championship — point in the third set, Wheelersburg rallied to incredibly win that set in extra points, and then simply dominated the final two games to stunningly capture the Division III Region 11 title 19-25, 19-25, 26-24, 25-20 and 15-5 inside Logan High School’s Jim Myers Gymnasium.
Yes, you read that right: the Lady Pirates play on to the OHSAA’s Final Four.
“The Final Four? That’s crazy!” said an elated Wheelersburg coach Allen Perry. “But it’s exciting. It’s exciting just to be a part of this.”
Wheelersburg’s senior co-captains — Mallory Bergan and Alli McQuay — concurred.
“It’s crazy. It’s unbelievable. This has been our goal since freshman year. Every time we work out, our chant is ‘State’. And we’re finally going to state! It means the world,” said McQuay.
With the victory, the Lady Pirates — ranked third in the final Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches’ Association Division III statewide poll — remained undefeated at 27-0 and, more importantly, become just the second Scioto County club in history to win a regional tournament in the sport of volleyball.
The other you ask?
It was Clay — just last year in Division IV.
Wheelersburg was playing in its third consecutive regional tournament, but twice was swept out of the Logan regional by Tuscarawas Valley in the semifinals.
This year, Tusky Valley — which handed Hiland its only loss prior to Saturday — was nowhere near Logan, but the Pirates still had to play a strong Hawks’ squad, which had won 26 matches itself.
The 2019 Lady Pirates also entered with an astonishing and historic streak still intact — 73 sets played and 73 sets won.
Unfortunately, that streak came to an end in the opening two sets, as Hiland had it all going its way with winning the first two games by 25-19 scores.
In fact, Wheelersburg led for only two entire points (1-0 and 2-1 in game one and 12-11 and 13-12 in game two) in those first two games — and trailed by as late as 23-20 in the third, and even down to championship point at 24-23 thanks to an Annika Schneider kill.
But, just when it appeared as if the Hawks had the Pirates officially eliminated, Wheelersburg somehow, someway found another gear — or maybe it was just a gear its never used.
Facing that final point, junior middle hitter Kylee Barney hammered down a dynamite kill for the 24-24 tie — as the Hawks then had an attack error which gave Wheelersburg the lead…for good.
Bergan’s big kill capped off the comeback third game with Wheelersburg winning 26-24, and all of the sudden — the momentum completely switched.
There were five lead changes in that third game, as Hiland held a 22-19 advantage when Wheelersburg called a timeout.
What was said in that sideline session was simple, but impactful.
“We were sitting over there in the third set, and we were down a couple of points, but we (coaches) just told them (players) that anything you leave out there turns into regrets the rest of your life. So don’t leave anything out there. They were like ‘we got this’. Whenever they turn it on, and play with that desire and purpose and enthusiasm…they just went out there and executed,” said Perry. “Winning that set turned that light on and proved to them that they could do this.”
“We got down two sets, but we just said to be ‘all in’. Don’t leave anything out there,” added McQuay. “This is our last chance, and we were better than what we showed those first two sets. We were ancy and anxious, just getting to the regional championship. Once we got past our nerves, it was smooth sailing for the most part.”
It sure appeared that way.
The Lady Pirates never trailed in either of the final two games, and pulled away from a 4-4 tie in the fourth to lead by as much as 23-13 on a kill by Emily Boggs.
Wheelersburg went on to win that fourth set 25-20, and served for a remarkable eight consecutive points in the decisive fifth game to lead 13-4.
After Adrianna Miller’s kill for the Hawks, the Pirates put the match at championship point — when Hiland hit the ball out of bounds.
Finally, sophomore Ryleigh Meeker made the final kill for Wheelersburg, as the Lady Pirates mobbed each other in a wild celebration scene at center court.
Truth be told, while not the American League Championship Series in baseball of 15 years ago — when the Boston Red Sox were down to their last strike of getting swept against the rival New York Yankees — what Wheelersburg did on Saturday was darn close.
Sure, it was difficult to have their staggering sets-played-and-won winning streak snapped, but the Lady Pirates indeed will take their new streak of three games — if it meant moving on to the coveted state tournament at Wright State University.
Wheelersburg had won a dozen straight postseason sets, and now has won 15 of 17 in the tournament — part of 76 of 78 for the entire year.
“What a team of girls right there. We didn’t play our best volleyball in those first two sets. We needed a spark, and I think losing those first two sets created that spark,” said Perry. “That fourth and fifth set, that’s the team that we’ve seen so many times that knows how to play.”
Did it ever.
In the fourth, Amanda Troyer served an ace for the Hawks for the 4-4 tie, but two Boggs kills sandwiched around a Meeker kill made it a three-point difference.
Nikole Keim’s kill for the Hawks made it 7-5, but four straight Pirate points — including back-to-back kills by Barney — pushed the lead to four…with Wheelersburg warming up.
It then led 15-6, 17-7 and finally 23-13, although the Hawks sliced the deficit in half (23-18) — before the Pirates pulled the tilt even by scoring the final two points.
In addition to seeing its advantage evaporate, Hiland — ranked sixth in the final OHSVCA poll — did not substitute a single solitary time, other than the libero Troyer, in either of its two regional matches.
The Hawks were tiring in the fourth set and especially the fifth, as they got no closer than a 1-1 tie and a 3-2 deficit on a pair of Schneider kills.
Barney’s third kill of the game and final of 13 for the match made it 5-2, as Sara Schlabach’s back-to-back kills got the Hawks to within 5-4.
From there, though, Wheelersburg went off for a whopping 10 of the final 11 points, which started when the Hawks had an attack attempt go wide.
Bergan’s back-to-back kills, a double contact call, a Meeker kill, another hitting error and a pair of McQuay kills combined for the amazing eight consecutive points.
Even setter Lauren Jolly, the shortest Pirate on the floor at 5-4, got in on the act — basically pushing the ball over the net for a point.
“We carried over what we did in the third set to the last two. We were excited, our energy was up again, our heart rates were up,” said Perry.
And, the six feet and two inches and length of Barney was in the rotation for the majority of the final three games — unlike the first two when she out for most.
Barney and Bergan both amassed five blocks.
“Kylee is a difference-maker,” said Perry. “Not only when she is swinging, but also as a decoy to open our offense up to where other people can swing.”
One of those was Bergan, who amounted a team-high 19 kills.
“Mallory was swinging as hard as she has ever done today. And they were going in, especially late in the game,” said Perry. “She didn’t want this to be her last match, I can tell you that.”
McQuay with 11 and Boggs with 10 also reached double-digits in kills, as Meeker mustered three blocks and McQuay two.
Jolly set for 55 assists, as McQuay with two and Meeker with one served up the Pirates’ lone aces.
Five Pirates — Jolly with 19, McQuay with 17, Bergan and Boggs with 16 apiece and libero Kaylee Darnell with 15 — all had double figures for defensive digs.
But Saturday’s statistics, rightfully and understandably, seemed insignificant and even irrelevant — at least from the Pirates’ perspective.
It was all about accomplishing the goal of being state bound.
“The first year we made it to the regionals here (at Logan), we weren’t where we needed to be to compete at this level. But being up here the past two years, we took those ‘Ls’ that stand for ‘losses’ and took them as standing for ‘learns’ instead,” said Perry. “We’ve learned a lot the last three years up here. We went back to work and did everything we could to ultimately be successful on this stage. It’s just nice to see it all pay off today.”
Perry also expressed immense gratitude and thanks to his two assistant coaches — Tricia Boggs and Kelsey Glockner.
Wheelersburg will now play Independence in Thursday’s Division III state semifinals at high noon — inside the Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State University near Dayton.
Independence, which swept Mantua Crestwood in another regional final on Saturday, is 23-4 — and the fourth-ranked squad in Division III.
The second state semifinal on Thursday is between Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy and Findlay Liberty-Benton.
The semifinal winners will return to Wright State on Saturday — for the Division III state championship match at 11 a.m.
For the Pirates to become state champions, they will need to win six more sets — but everybody already knows they can play three…and now, in fact, can play a full five.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved